Death by a Thousand Cuts

The National Health Service is in crisis. Right wing think tanks and Tories, at home and at Westminster, suggest prescription charges and paying to see the doctor as ‘solutions’. But worse, the very existence of the NHS is under threat.

Emergency Surgery

While the ‘temporary’ withdrawals of emergency surgery at the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen and at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry earlier this year make the headlines and quite rightly attract public attention, even more profound issues are emerging.

The Western Trust, as well as the Department of Health, has a responsibility to set out very clearly its long-term plans for emergency surgery in the south-west and the implications for patients, services and staff. 

We need to see the overall plan for the future of health and care services and discuss it openly and in the round. Drip feeding information and making announcements by instalments is undermining public and staff confidence.

Local healthcare should always be safe, of the highest quality and be professionally delivered – but it must also be accessible. Patient journeys of over an hour to receive emergency treatment falls well outside of that – even on a ‘temporary’ basis.

General Practitioners

As long as GPs remain as private independent contractors there will continue to be the difficulties in recruitment and threats to services that we have been hearing about recently.

GPs becoming NHS employees, instead of private contractors, would improve the service, reduce waiting times and address many of the problems currently faced in primary care – including the closure of GP practices

It would be inconceivable that other health and care professionals like nurses, social workers and hospital doctors would sit outside the NHS rather than be its employees/. Why should GPs be any different?

Community Care

For the thousands of people who receive treatment, care and support in their own home comes the additional health benefits of familiar surroundings, family, dignity, reassurance and a level of control. Yet despite the fundamental nature of community care the service and its centrality to health, well-being, rehabilitation, recuperation and added years, it has always been, and remains, a Cinderella service.

The majority of community-based care is now provided by a plethora of private companies. It is delivered by some of the lowest paid workers in the health and care system and prioritises profit over people.

The community care system is criminally underfunded. Successive Health Ministers and the Department of Health have never accepted it as a valid and vital part of the health and care system and continue to see buildings and technology as the core of the health service

Why is it that twenty five years ago local community care services were receiving international acclaim for their innovation, flexibility, high standard of care and the contribution they were making to patient care, yet today medically fit patients are forced to remain in hospital because no care package is available to them?  .

Decades of Austerity

For decades, services have been cut, wards and departments have been closed, staff have been under-valued and underpaid and waiting lists spiral out of control while private clinics flourish and those with the money to pay go to the top of the queue.

The Scottish Health Department last week drafted a discussion paper which explored the introduction of what it unashamedly referred to as a two-tier NHS.

Of course, the reality is that the ground work for that very scenario has been laid over many years. The privatisation of the lucrative parts of the service is an ongoing process, plans to allow US and other companies to buy NHS services are always on the table and the erosion and underfunding of existing services conditions public opinion to accept anything that looks like a better alternative. grave Health Service free at the point of use, as long as people are willing to fight for it”.


“…there will always be a cradle to the grave Health Service free at the point of use, as long as people are willing to fight for it”

.NYE BEVAN, LABOUR MINSTER FOR HEALTH 1945 -51


We are not looking at isolated cases of the ‘temporary’ transfer of services. We are witnessing the potential death of the NHS by a thousand cuts. Since its inception in the 1940s there has been an active and relentless campaign by some to undermine the principle of publicly funded health and social care, free at the point of delivery, and replace it with private health insurance, private healthcare and priv

The Assembly

The Assembly should be in session, there should be a Health Minister and there should be plans, proposals and public discussions. But the current crisis has not been caused by the absence of an Executive. It has been building for years and it has been happening on the watch of successive administrations and successive ministers.  It is one of the outcomes of the policies of deregulation, privatisation and the breakup of public services.

World Best

The NHS is indeed in a crisis. It is being undermined, underfunded and cherrypicked for privatisation.

We owe it to the generations of front-line workers and support staff who have developed and delivered one of the best healthcare services in the world to defend it against those who would sell it off to the highest bidder.

For now, a concerted effort will keep the NHS afloat, but only in a socialist society can it be guaranteed to achieve its full potential.

Support and Solidarity

Workers Party members joined striking trade unionists from the Communications Workers Union and the University & College Union on picket lines across Belfast this morning in support of their just demands for above inflation pay awards, job security, improved conditions and pension rights.

A Blind Man on a Galloping Horse

In recent weeks we have seen a clear demonstration of exactly who runs the economy, and consequently our lives: it’s big business, multi-nationals and global conglomerates – not governments.

When the ‘markets’ decided that a recent budget posed a threat to their profits, they effectively pulled the economic plug and dictated how taxes, public spending and wages should be skewed in their favour.

Again and again

That is a scenario that has been recited repeatedly. Governments can say and do what they want – but the markets, the multi-nationals and the big financial institutions will ultimately dictate policy and how our lives are lived. They will recover their losses at out expense, they will enforce austerity, demand that public spending is cut, that services are privatised and that working people bail them out when their fundamentally flawed economics once again hit the rocks.

A blind man on a galloping horse could see that tinkering, negotiating or pandering to capitalism is as pointless as it is futile. That same man on that same horse can also see the impotent and diversionary nature of our local identity politics.

Comforting

How comforting must it be to those who sponge off the backs of working people to know that everything here is seen in terms of Orange and Green, that flags, symbols and culture wars are promoted as more important than jobs, education, public services, opportunity and a quality of life. How re-assuring must it be for all the main political; parties that the Northern Ireland electorate, the local media and almost every civic institution is happy to go along with that, repeat it and re-enforce it?

The current cost of living crisis provides us with only the latest example – if any of us care to look – of the self preserving powers of the economic elite. Profits continue to rise, the markets have been made safe for good returns in investment and all the while children go hungry, homes go unheated and human potential is devalued and wasted.

It is time to tackle the myth that the market and “consumer choice” can provide a solution. This model has patently failed. Lining the pockets of the capitalist class will only deepen the problems.

Thousands of working people across almost every sector of employment have been forced into taking industrial action in defence of decent wages, workplace rights and safer and accessible public services.

The market economy has flexed its muscles. Working people must demonstrate the overwhelming power of unity and solidarity that only the working class movement can muster.

It is time to call time on the anonymous and faceless financial institutions that dictate and direct our lives and time also to call time on their self serving sectarian subalterns in Stormont and elsewhere.

No Winners in World Cup of Shame

The FIFA World Cup 2022, which kicked off yesterday in Qatar, is an affront to human dignity and workers’ rights.

It epitomises the depths of economic exploitation and human  degradation which the Qatari state  and the male branch of the al-Thani Royal family, which has been in power since the 1800’s has sunk to secure the right to stage the contest in the first place and the treatment of migrant workers employed to build the stadia and infrastructure.

It is estimated that at least 6,500 migrant workers died during the building phase –  most from overwork in unsafe temperatures. The Qatari authorities refuse to confirm numbers or hold an investigation into the deaths. Many workers have had little or no time off, have worked 12 hour shifts and have been threatened with loss of wages or deportation if they report in sick.

The families of migrant workers are being denied financial compensation for the loss of their loved ones.  A United Nations report found workers living in  “squalid, overcrowded accommodation with no air-conditioning and exposed to overflowing sewage or uncovered septic tanks”. 

That is how this World Cup has been delivered. Allegations of bribery and corruption, a total disregard for workers rights or human dignity and a political system that openly discriminates against ‘women and the LBGT+ community.

Qatar already has a poor history. Political parties are banned. The emir, himself
unelected, appoints the prime minister and cabinet members. He also chooses his
successor with the aid of the ruling family. Sharia courts have jurisdiction over all
family law matters. Women must obtain permission from their male guardians to
exercise many of their basic rights. Journalists and those protesting for their rights
have been detained.

This has placed the professional footballers and supporters in an invidious position. The Qatar World Cup is a World Cup of Shame. Qatar must be held to account

Dr. Éamon Phoenix

The Workers Party has expressed its sympathy to the family, friends and colleagues of the late Dr Éamon Phoenix .

Dr Éamon Phoenix made a great contribution to public life in Northern Ireland over many decades.

He brought a calm and reasoned voice to public discourse, rooted in an extensive knowledge of the historical archive, challenging the often divisive and dangerous myths perpetuated by unionists and nationalists.

As an educator, he taught generations about history at both secondary and tertiary level, influencing many to pursue the subject further. He had a particular skill in community education and outreach, bringing to life forgotten parts of our history, including the history of the working class.

His own research made a major contribution to our understanding of a crucial period of Irish history, and of the peculiar dynamics of Belfast and Northern Ireland.

His contribution will be missed, and public life is the poorer for his passing. We offer our condolences to his family and friends.

Backing Nurses – Supporting the NHS

When nurses in Northern Ireland vote overwhelmingly to go on strike, it confirms the depth of the economic and political crisis we are in.

There are currently almost 2,500 nursing vacancies in health trusts and a similar number in the private sector. Taking industrial action is a situation that has been forced upon the nursing community as they rightly pursue parity of pay with colleagues across the NHS and seek safe staffing levels.

All five main parties in Northern Ireland are collectively to blame. The Northern Ireland Executive broke pay parity in 2014 – a decision subsequently confirmed by successive health minsters.

The media and others claim that strike action puts patents at risk. The stark reality is that patients are already at risk and staff and services are at breaking point.

Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of citizens and the safe delivery of a public health and social care service.

Supporting the striking health care workers and their demands for pay party and safe staffing levels is a demonstration of support for the NHS.   

Disadvantaging the Disadvantaged

The findings of a report, by Queen’s University, into academic selection will come as no surprise to those who have opposed the 11 Plus and the grammar school system, but they are worth repeating. 

This latest report finds that transfer tests and the grammar school system “disadvantages the already most disadvantaged”. That invariably will be children from working class backgrounds.

Previous studies, like those undertaken by the United Nations experts and by educational specialists at Queen’s University and Stranmillis University College have repeatedly confirmed that academic selection reinforces “privilege and disadvantage” and recommend the end of academic selection in Northern Ireland as a key way to help in reversing educational disadvantage.

There are many issues to be addressed in our education system, for example how it is structured and the results it produces. The continued use of academic selection at 11 is just one of them.

All those opposed to academic selection – parents, teachers, trade unions and others – must reignite this debate and pursue the complete and final abolition of this brutal and archaic system.

BEING NEUTRAL IS NOT AN OPTION

In the last twelve months workers across the public and private sectors have taken, were considering taking or were planning to take industrial action in support of justified demands for above inflation pay rises, securing services, health and safety concerns and their workplace rights.

They were representative of every section of the economy: shop workers and transport staff, delivery service drivers, manufactures, factory workers, heath and care staff, postal workers, university lecturers and hospitality staff….. 

Thousands more were engaged in ‘Work to Rule’ protests and thousands more again took action ‘Short of Strike’.

This week the Royal College of Nursing will announce the result of the strike ballot amongst its membership. It is expected to be overwhelmingly in favour.

These are very difficult and challenging times for working people and their families. Health and well being are being compromised, mental health pressures are mounting daily, the call on food banks increases week,ly homes are going unheated and children are going unfed. As a direct result of this economic crisis and the government’s response, many people here will not survive the winter. 

In the midst of this human degradation and suffering, the priorities of the two largest parties: one refuses to form an Executive the the other places the claim to  First Minister above all else. 

Only a socialist society and a socialist economy can bring an end to the exploitation, indignity and misery inflicted on working people by a capitalist system.

However, there are real, immediate and pressing problems confronting working people. The awareness, confidence and belief that has been generated in recent times must not be wasted or watered down.

The current struggles are about much more than above inflation pay rises.

The actions of the trade union movement and the reactions of government, capital and the media have brought the entire set of working relationships into focus.

Now is the time to shift that relationship in favour of working people. We all have a collective responsibility to support and defend the movement towards a new dynamic based on the rights of workers, a high wage economy, an end to zero hours contracts, affordable, accessible and flexible childcare and a four-day working week.

Pretending to neutral is no pretence at all. 

This is how Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the RMT Union summed it up  at a meeting outside Westminster during the week:

Women Demand Better

The absence of hostel facilities for homeless and vulnerable women was the focus of a major protest rally in Belfast on Saturday, but the issues and the demands went well beyond that.

TheWomen Demand Better’ rally, organised by UNITE the Union, highlighted the closure of Northern Ireland’s only exclusively female hostel, in May of this year, and the failure of the Department for Communities (DfC) to provide replacement services.

Homeless hostel accommodation should be planned for and funded by DfC, and provided directly by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

The lack of women only accommodation is not a simple administrative matter. Health, well-being and lives are at stake. The Housing Executive, supported by health, social services and mental health services, must step up immediately, assume responsibility and provide a first-class service with the first class staff in waiting.

Women Demand Better also because they are subjected to a disproportionate amount of economic, social and personal hardship as a result of the cost-of-living crisis. Research report after research report is spelling that out very clearly and very painfully.

On average, women earn less than men, because they are more likely to have jobs that pay less than the living wage, because women are also more likely to bear responsibility for managing daily household costs, such as groceries and children’s items and because the majority of unpaid carers are women.

Childcare remains a major obstacle for women returning to, and remaining in, work. For many parents it remains unavailable, or inflexible and unaffordable.

Part time employment and zero hours contracts compound the problems faced by women in the workforce. They do not resolve them.

The gender pay gap persists and leaves women at a further disadvantage.

The lack of a real living wage continues to impact disproportionately on women and young girls.

On top of all that, the problems for women in abusive relationships can be further compounded by the cost-of-living crisis and financial dependency on their abuser.

The Workers Party stands with Women.

22nd International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties

The 22nd International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties has been held in Havana, Cuba.

The Workers Party was represented by our International Secretary, Gerry Grainger, and Eoin McNeill of the party’s International Department.

More than 160 delegates from over 60 countries convened under the slogan ‘United we are stronger’ to discuss a range of international issues including the threats posed by the arms race, the large cuts to social spending which result from it and the existence and modernisation of nuclear weapons. The meeting also warned against the growing number of foreign military bases and NATO’s project to become a global military organisation.

The struggles of young people, women and those fleeing war zones and persecution were highlighted as was the ongoing dangers to our environment, ecosystem and to the human species by a capitalist economic system driven by profit , over production and the ruthless and damaging exploitation of natural resources.

With the gathering being held in Havana it was an appropriate opportunity to extend international solidarity to the Cuban people and “… their struggle for the immediate and unconditional lifting of the unjust, criminal and tightened economic, commercial and financial blockade to which they have been subjected for more than 60 years and demands that the US government removes Cuba from the spurious ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’ list.

Addressing the meeting on behalf of the Workers Party, International Secretary, Gerry Grainger spoke of the war in Ukraine and of the ”…serious danger of a more generalised military confrontation given the clamour for escalation by the EU, NATO and the US’

Turning to matters at home he said, “Thousands of people in Ireland are living in poverty and many of those are the so-called “working poor” unable to live and feed their families although in employment. Women, in particular, often have to work in low-paid precarious jobs. Single parents, predominantly women, face some of the  highest childcare costs in Europe.

Our society is characterised by massive and pervasive social and economic inequality, exploitation and oppression, with massive inequality in wealth between the working class and those who own and control society’s economic resources”, he said.

Housing, health, education and social services are under attack.  Work is low paid, precarious and casualised. Wages are in decline. The cost-of-living crisis continues to escalate. The gains and achievements fought for and attained by workers over generations are being undermined and reversed”, Gerry concluded 

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