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Extra hospital beds, new GP centres and a better health service for all. So what happened Harney?

Ever get the feeling you've been taken for a ride by the Government and the HSE when it comes to promising us a better health service?

Two significant events, significant for all the wrong reasons, took placed recently.

Firstly we celebrated, if that's the word, the fifth anniversary of Mary Harney's co-located hospital plan. This was a cheap and cheerful ruse to free up 1,000 extra beds in public hospitals by moving them to new private hospitals.

How many private hospital beds has the plan delivered to date? And how many extra public hospital beds has it freed up? Precisely none.

When the plan was launched in July 2005, the minister told us it would deliver extra beds "in the fastest and most cost-effective way in the next five years".

Now the most optimistic scenario is that even if private funding is found -- and how likely is that in the current climate -- the first co-located hospital is unlikely to be in place before the end of 2013. That's eight years after Mary Harney's announcement.

This week, the Government announced its slimmed-down capital programme.


It provides us with no detail of how much will be spent on individual hospitals and other projects, which ones will be delivered on time, and which will be long-fingered.

Most of the 'prioritised' major projects were already being planned, and they are mainly just replacing existing beds. For example, redeveloping the Mater, building a new children's hospital and moving maternity hospitals.

There are very few extra beds in this plan and that's not surprising, as apparently we don't need them, according to Mary Harney and Brendan Drumm.

Tell that to the nearly 400 patients waiting on trolleys on some days this month, despite the summer 'dip' in hospital activity, or those on waiting lists.

Even if you were to make a leap of faith and believe we don't need all these beds, and accept that more patients can be treated in the community, where are all these spanking new 'mini-hospital' GP centres we were promised?

The capital programme says two (no that's not a misprint) of these centres were built last year and 32 may be opened by the end of this year.

And it goes on to promise us that around 120 will be open by 2013.

However, less than one-third of the new primary care teams of GPs and other health professionals will be working from these centres.

It all could have been so different ...

Back in 2001, the Government launched its dazzling Health Strategy. As the country swam in money, we were promised 3,000 extra public beds and around 600 primary care centres.

However, almost before the ink was dry on the Strategy, the promise was reneged on.

There's no sign of the extra beds. In fact, bed numbers have actually been cut recently by around 1,000, with a further 1,110 beds also due to be taken out.

The HSE is cutting beds and claiming patients can be treated by community services that have not yet been given the capacity to take them on.

The HSE is "transforming" how care is delivered on the cheap and potentially putting patients at risk. You can't close down beds if you don't have proper facilities elsewhere to treat patients.

The Government's failure to build up the health service when it could afford to and change for the better the way we deliver care is a great lost opportunity of the Celtic Tiger years.

Niall Hunter is editor of irishhealth.com