The Minister For Health recently published his healthcare agenda at a recent motion on the issue; it reads as though we are at the start of a brand new Government term and the Minister is setting out his aims and objectives to improve waiting times, improvements in the delivery of care, optimum patient care and safety as a priority. However, we are coming to the end of the Governments five-year term and we must ask what has happened to the plans made in March 2011? What progress has been made since then?
While we have very professional, hard-working and committed staff and excellence in certain areas, including, I acknowledge in particular, in the treatment of cancer, the stark reality is that we do not have a state-of-the-art service and there are glaring deficiencies. Why should the tremendous work of doctors and nurses be destroyed by a bureaucratic nightmare that runs our hospitals?
As I write this I am reminded of a lady for whom a hip replacement is required and was recommended last March; she is still waiting to get an appointment with a surgeon just to get a date for an operation, which of course will be much further down the line. In the meantime, her situation has worsened and she is unable to work.
This Government promised big things before and after the last election, particularly when they spoke about their health service objectives. However, we all know about the recent and ongoing overcrowding, the huge increase in the number of people on trolleys, the risks and the dangers associated with Irish hospitals. I’d like to begin with the shortfall in staff and the crisis in attracting nurses, in particular our own trained and qualified nurses either to stay in or return to Ireland. This is a huge problem that is costing the taxpayer a fortune to employ temporary agency nurses. I spoke with a past pupil who trained as a nurse in DCU and went to Australia. While the monetary incentive was encouraging, her point was that the working conditions in Ireland would be unacceptable at the hospital she works at in Melbourne. Given how much is spent on providing our nurses with excellent training, the amount spent on employing agency nurses is a complete waste of resources. Conditions need to change if we are to stop this crisis.
I attended the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation protest outside the Dáil. I met people I knew who highlighted the cuts to intellectual disability services. The reduction of 9.4% in the budget translated into €160 million. There have been reductions in staff numbers, the respite care grant, the housing adaptation grant and speech and language therapy. Which brings me to the chaos in our Accident and Emergency departments and that there is no designated intellectual disability nurse in A&E units to assist in this situation. A&E services are inadequate in another regard, that is, these units are not the place for those who present with drug and alcohol addictions. It is not fair to the addicts, the other patients presenting or the staff. If we had a designated accident and emergency unit for those in addiction, there might be links and follow-ups for addicts to get them out of the cycle of addiction and into recovery.
The main point is that long delays in A&E are also contributing significantly to the long delays in scheduled procedures. You must be thinking by now that it all comes down to budget and not having enough money to create adequate A&E departments. Surprisingly however, we have a very significant health budget, a budget which one would imagine would translate into a state-of-the-art health service.
Looking at other aspects of the Governments plans, I note the reference to significant progress in relation to delayed discharges, nursing home schemes, home-care packages, nursing home beds and waiting times. This brings us to the disconnect between what is presented as statistics (the spin) and facts and the reality on the ground. The real reality is that due to poor management over the last 5 years people are waiting unacceptably, and immorally, long times for procedures, and nothing has changed.