Editorial: Election or no election, children must come first
Published 22/05/2014 | 02:30
After Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore described medical card reviews as akin to "harassment" the Government is now promising to handle the debacle differently and with more sensitivity. Unfortunately, they won't get much credit for this and this would appear to have more to do with the politics of Friday's looming election and the backlash they are getting on the doorsteps than any other consideration.
It is ironic that as it moves to introduce free GP care for the under sixes, a whole raft of seriously ill children, some suffering from life-threatening conditions, are having their medical cards taken from them, causing untold distress to parents and families. The National Association of General Practitioners said yesterday that finance that is currently ring-fenced for the free GP care for under sixes should immediately be freed up so that the so-called discretionary medical cards are not removed from very sick children.
But the bottom line is that people – including children – are losing their medical cards because the system has been centralised, the 'discretionary' element has been removed and with cutbacks in the health budget there is less money for health and medical cards. It seems purely electoral politics for the Government to turn around now and blame HSE employees for implementing what is, after all, government policy.
Earlier this year, Taoiseach Enda Kenny promised to take a more "hands-on" approach to the health budget, which has suffered a series of catastrophic over-runs.
If so, he's not doing much better than his beleaguered minister Dr James Reilly in coming to terms with what is an on-going disaster.
Of course, people losing medical cards under the new centralised system is not new, it's just that because there is an election, the issue is being highlighted to a much greater extent than before.
If, instead of moving towards implementing free GP care, the Government had delivered on its promise to extend GP care to those on long-term illness schemes by March, 2012 and hi-tech drug schemes by March 2013, they might not be in the mess they find themselves today, on the eve of the election.
It is clear that this issue needs to be handled better – election or not, very sick children need to be a top priority for any state.
Time to draw a line under 'more work for less pay' policy
Basically, we're working longer and earning less, not very much of either but enough to foster discontent and leave many people in relatively good jobs exhausted and broke. The Labour Market Monitor Summer 2014, a survey carried out by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), has concluded that the earnings of the average worker have fallen by €4.46 a week while the average working week has increased by six minutes to an average of 31.7 hours a week.
Neither might seem significant at first glance, but of course averages mask the true picture that many workers have seen much greater upheaval in their working lives since the onset of the economic downturn.
The drop in wages has also come during a period that has seen significant increases in utility bills; the imposition of Universal Social Charge; Local Property Tax and the imminent imposition of water charges.
Taken together the average Irish worker is suffering disproportionately.
But for many, the consolation of having a job is what keeps them going. The ICTU report also concludes that 328,700 jobs have been destroyed during the downturn, while there has been a "hollowing out" of middle-income earners with jobs outsourced or "off-shored" to use current management speak.