When was the last time the HSE contacted Senators rather than celebrities?

The hospitals co-location project that was announced with much fanfare by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, and her colleagues in Government was buried by measures taken in the recent budget.

Now that this project, which involved the folly of relying on the property development sector to deal with the development of health care, is in tatters, like many of the Government’s policies, I am seeking a debate in the Seanad with the Minister on how we will fund our health care system and how we will end, once and for all, the disgrace of the two-tier health care system in which people’s means and incomes determine, if not the quality of health care, at least the speed at which they receive it?

In that context, I warmly welcome the publication this week by the Fine Gael Party of a policy programme for universal health insurance. It is an excellent contribution to the debate. The Labour Party has held the view for the best part of a decade and has published extensive policy documents to the effect that universal health insurance is clearly the way we should have proceeded when the matter was being addressed in recent years. It now manifestly is the way forward.

In terms of the standing of politicians, we have discussed on many occasions the bureaucratic monster that is the HSE, its inaccessibility and lack of democratic accountability. It has instituted a programme of public relations, the principle purpose of which is for it to contact “opinion formers”, ‘Celebrity Bainisteoirí’ and other mouthy individuals with whom it intends to discuss problems in the health services so it can get feedback. When was the last time Senators were contacted by the HSE to give feedback? When was Senator MacSharry asked about cancer services in the North West?

I heard a HSE communications expert talking about feedback this morning. People are telling us what is happening. An intensive care nurse told me last week that they cannot get the basic equipment to do their jobs and there is a shortage of staff.

We could not make this up.

This unit in the HSE is engaging in an extraordinary exercise where it contacts these celebrities to give them its spin but it completely lacks democratic accountability in the health service. I get e-mails from it every week, as do other people, but they are spin. I have a question for the HSE about this project: how will it improve health services in this State?