|The privately financed South West Acute Hospital|
Before the South West Acute Hospital was even built, promises were broken by the politicians and more than a dozen key medical services were lost, leaving us with a huge building but with few locally-delivered services. Now it can be revealed that the total cost of the hospital is to overrun by almost HALF A BILLION POUNDS, the vast bulk going into the profits of big business!
Many patients have found themselves travelling to Altnagelvin in Derry for even minor procedures. As the Socialist Party predicted, the closure of acute services in Omagh has increased pressure the South West unit, leading to crisis situations. What does it say about the Assembly parties’ commitment to our health service that basic procedures cannot be dealt with in this “state of the art” hospital?
The decision by Sinn Fein’s Bairbre de Brun – then Health Minister – to build the hospital through a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) led to a rip-off for taxpayers. PFI deals see the taxpayer subsidise the construction of a building by major contractors and then rent it off them for extortionate amounts. That’s right, we don’t even own the hospital and it was clearly built with private healthcare in mind!
What’s worse, the original price of the contract was £224 million but it ballooned to £712 million, yet no politician has ever been held to account!
To pay the profits of PFI firms, all NHS Trust budgets are being ‘topsliced’ by the Department. As a start, the Western Trust has privatised all car parks in the region. A wave of service cuts are now planned on the grounds of budgetary pressures. The Trust’s latest accounts show £360.8 million owed in interest payments alone! At a time when nurses and other health staff can’t get a 1% pay rise and a tsunami of health cuts is on the way, there is no excuse to continue with this PFI scam.
Already, we are seeing a new wave of protests against health cuts– in Omagh, Ballycastle, Bangor and Whiteabbey. In Fermanagh, we need to follow these examples. Our victory against the frackers has shown that we have the power to stand up and fight back. Local campaigns across Northern Ireland should link up, alongside the trade union movement, and build a mass campaign to end the scandal of handouts to big business, to demand that our health service is fully funded to meet people’s needs.
The Socialist Party says the profiteers should be kicked out of the South West Hospital and out of the health service altogether. This means forcing the Stormont Executive parties – all of whom are responsible for cuts and privatisation – to terminate these contracts with profit-hungry vultures and bring all buildings and services back into the NHS!