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“Reconfiguration”, “Centres of excellence” - Buzzwords for privatisation and screwing the worker

category cork | worker & community struggles and protests | feature author Saturday October 11, 2008 17:43author by Kevin Doyle - Cork WSM Report this post to the editors

featured image
Paula Walters of SIPTU takes some enquiries on the HSE

Brendan Drum of the HSE had earmarked the St Mary’s Orthopaedic Hospital in Cork as next in line for his cuts. But workers at the hospital are intent on fighting back and not accepting this. Kevin Doyle interviewed Paula Walters, SIPTU member, and a hospital attendant with over 30 years experience at the hospital.

Q:To begin with Paula, for those not familiar with Cork and its hospitals, what sort of place is the Orthopaedic?

A: The hospital’s main business is with bones and it specialises in hips and knee replacements, and broken legs. Mostly people who come up to us have something like that the matter with them. That’s what it specialises in. There are others area too like Plastics and Physio too. The Orthopaedic was one of the first of its kind in the south of Ireland. It opened 53 years ago. It’s on the North side of Cork, in Gurranbraher, the last hospital of any size in what is a huge area of Cork city. It has big grounds. It’s a homely hospital – it’s small and a lovely place to work in. A lot of people’s families worked there over generations. It’s a very calm hospital in a way.

Q: How many are working there now?

A: Roughly between staff and kitchen staff and so on, you would have about 200 people.

Q: People will be familiar with the cutback in the Mercy Hosptial and the ongoing refusal by the HSE to fund the opening of the new A & E there. What’s been happening at the Orthopaedic?

The interview continues after the jump...

A: There been small stuff happening over a while. In July we lost Block 3 which was a male and female trauma unit. We weren’t sure what was going on – they said one thing and did another. We shouldn’t have accepted that. But we thought it was just a switch around. Actually we are not sure if management know them half the time what they’re doing – that’s the honest truth. They said there wasn’t enough activity in Block 3 and, as it was the smallest, they were going to move it. Actually that wasn’t true at all. It was bursting at the seams really. There was a full complement of patients there day and night. I do night duty. Anyway since then we have been more careful.

Q: Now there is new threat against the Orthopaedic. When did you hear about this?

A: We read about then in the Evening Echo newspaper! Can you believe it? So I contacted the Michael Murphy, the hospital manager, and he said it was nothing new and that it had been discussed with us. Which it had not. He said they were talking about bringing Community Care into us but Community Care will be only one or two blocks. And in actual fact there is no guarantee that anyone of us will get any jobs in there anyway.

Q: The big threat is to the orthopaedic services?

A: Yes. They want to move Orthopaedic and Plastics out to Cork University Hospital in Wilton and have them all under the one roof out there. It’s crazy. For one thing all the facilities now at the hospital, the clean-air surgeries which cost a fortune, will all be lost – down the drain. X-ray would then go too. It would be a massive blow. And to go out to Wilton, to CUH. Everyone knows there is no room to move out there. Whereas with us there is lots of room and everyone agrees that the grounds are beautiful.

Q: So is it a good idea to move the big specialties to CUH?

A: If there is a need to modernise ...Like the surgeons are saying they need a brand new hospital. Fine, maybe they do, but why don’t they build it at the Orthopaedic, and still bring Community Care on board and create employment rather than be downgrading our hospital. We have made suggestions, but everything we come up with has been knocked on the head. All they say is that the ‘powers that be’ have made a decision. In reality there’s a long term plan to down-grade the hospital. For example the Orthopaedic has been promised a Rehab centre for a long time – for over ten years that has been a promise. There is a big need for that. Otherwise people have to go up to Dun Laoghaire and that is hard when you are from Cork and Kerry or Limerick – it’s a big burden. That could come here. It was promised for here. So the hospital as it is has huge potential.

Q: So what do you feel is going on? Why the broken promises and why the less than subtle move to serious downgrade the present hospital.

A: We feel they want to bring in private developers and get the land. It’s worth tens of millions. They want private developers to take it. And we fear that they want ultimately to put another private hospital in there. If they get away with the co-location in Wilton with Beacon, then what’s to say they won’t do the same up with us when they get their hands on the grounds? The reality is they don’t want to develop the present hospital for the ordinary worker. If an entirely new arrangement is put in place then you can bet the jobs in any such private hospital will not be our jobs. Who are they going to bring in to work there? We’re on nearly €17 an hour – but that won’t be on offer with any of them. They’ll have contact cleaners and everyone on contracts – that’s what they want.

Q: There are cuts facing other workers in the health services. How do see the broader situation?

A: Someone put it well at a recent meeting I was at. In order for the private health sector to succeed the public sector must fail. Isn’t that true? So that is where the cutbacks are coming from, I feel. The HSE are chipping away all the time. They take on no new staff. I work on night duty, but you could end up on doing two or three job because some else is out or sick. You don’t mind giving a hand but this is happening on a regular basis. We should have five attendants on night duty but we end up with three. It’s not the same for nursing staff. They always have a full complement. But it seems the cuts are coming to us, the non-nursing staff and we’ve given years of service.

Q: What is the present situation?

A: What really upsets us is the manner in which we are being keep t in the dark. Jerry Dwyer still hasn’t commented on the Echo article... That’s what they are like. But you have to keep in mind too that sometimes, if you ask me, they don’t know what they are doing themselves. I mention earlier about the Block 3 closing in July, the male and female trauma unit. Well, credit this, they still had electricians in on upgrade work in there when it was closed! So they were actually pumping money into the block to refurbish it as they closed it! Then they turned around and said we’ll put Physio in there, so they ripped all that work out that had been done on Block 3, and now they are doing it up for Physio to move into. More money going down the drain. But anyway, back to the main point. When we ask what’s going on we get these words from them like “reconfiguration” and “centres of excellence”. It’s all that kind of stuff and they are all buzzwords for privatisation and let’s screw the ordinary worker, in my view.

Q: What action do you intend to take.

A: There is a lot of anger now about all these so called plans. WE have got onto our official Joe O’Callaghan (of SIPTU) and he is doing something now. He originally said in the Echo that he agreed with the plan to move the specialties to the CUH! But we challenged him and he took that back. He has requested a meeting with the HSE. But we are holding meetings too and there is also a protest called for outside City Hall that we will all go down to. We’re going to protest there. We don’t want to lose these jobs. We have a fierce backing behind us and we are not going to go quietly. We’ve given a lot of service. They will try to split us by saying some jobs will stay if it is downgraded but we don’t want that. We genuinely don’t. We want the hospital kept and we want it invested in.

Related Link:
author by cropbeye - nonepublication date Fri Oct 17, 2008 19:50author address Cork (Norhside)author phone Report this post to the editors

The only cases of M.R.S.A recorded in the Orthapeic

were in patients who had been transfered fom C,U.H.

Having been a patient in St Marys I found the atmsophere

much better than in Wilton

and from what I could see the Hygeine was very good at least

as of this May.

author by Billpublication date Sun Oct 12, 2008 22:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Well maybe the Evening Echo is less than reliable. But Paula Walters's information about the HSE's plans for the Orthopaedic are repeated in the Irish Times - see According to that Drum is planning to move against the hospitals. By the way I don't agree with you Baz Joe - I'm not for shutting the hospitals. Seems a short-sighted what you say, IMHO.

author by Joe Is No Bazookapublication date Sun Oct 12, 2008 22:00author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Bazooka Joe - you have an anger management problem in the written word context. Calm down and read the article. It would seem to me that you hardly bothered. I suppose because you have an 'axe to grind'. But anyway look, do you really think the Drum and Co are going to look after you, where ever the choose to move Orthopedics to (sorry about the spelling Joe)? Wake up - soon. Do.

PS - are you in Fine Gael?

author by trouserspublication date Sun Oct 12, 2008 20:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This place is a well-known MRSA hell-hole. It is ancient and dirty, and would be incapable of being brought in lines with the best contemporary hospital design. It has a bad reputation and its survival to date merely attests to the fact that in spite of all the promises made by the HSE to rationalize the health service, the rotten mess is still run for the benefit of the staff rather than the patients.

The staff (over-paid consultants included) might not want the place closed down, but I can assure Indymedia readers that the peple of Cork will breath a sigh of relief to see the gates bolted and orthopaedic surgery moved to the CUH.

Until then, I will try not to fall off my bicycle or have an accident which might deliver me into the tender mercies of this relic of the 1950s.

author by Bazooka Joepublication date Sun Oct 12, 2008 20:00author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This interview with 'Hospital attendant' and SIPTU member (wow!) Paula Walters is somewhat inaccurate, it misses the serious issues in St Marys Orthopaedic Hospital (referred to as 'The Orthopedic' in this piece) while managing to construct it's substantive point from something Ms Walters and her associates read in 'Da Echo'. Can you believe it? Considering the source, I can. The entire hysterical heart of this piece is in fact no more than the construct of gabbling, based on a red top article!

Ms Walters says there are about 200 people working in St Marys Orthopaedic "between staff and kitchen staff and so on". This is not even close. At least to a decent journalist, checking their facts, it isn't. There are 237 full time staff at St Marys. There are others who work part-time many of these are kitchen and cleaning staff. There are also a number of contract staff.

So what should this article really be focussing on in dealing with St Marys Orthopaedic Gurranbraher Cork? I would say the main concern for staff and patients of 'Da Orthopedic' should be the utter lack of hygiene there.

Health care associated infections such as MRSA have been claiming the lives of the old and the vulnerable for many years in Irish hospitals and causing great distress. These infections could be halted by simple hygiene such and washing ones hands and keeping equipment clean but so far staff in some hospitals have refused to implement such basic proceedures.

St Marys Orthopedic in Cork is among the very worst. They are third from the bottom and regarded as 'Poor' in the Helath Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) report of 2007.

This report also shows that St Mary's Orthopaedic Hospital Cork failed to provide any information on how it was managing hygiene services. Vulnerable patients are facing serious risk of infection, including MRSA, in St Marys Orthopedic because of poor hygiene standards. The effective management of infection control to minimise the risk of patients contracting potentially fatal superbugs and serious viruses should be the concern of all and should not have to take a second place to a rumour about some people possibly having to relocate.

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