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Confidence in Minister for Health: Motion (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 979 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly] The new 60-bed unit in Limerick hospital is the greatest example of this. While it was promised for next September, it will not be in place until at least a year later despite repeated assurances from the Minister as late as last week. At least the HSE in the mid-west had the decency to be honest with me, Deputy Harty and others in coming forward with the timelines. The politicisation of the health service and some of the institutions in it has to stop. I say that with great fear for where it has gone.

I believe the Minister is a decent person operating in a bad Government in a completely dysfunctional Dáil. He will survive today because of political convenience but the political management of healthcare in this country needs a complete overhaul for future generations. We all need to make sure that happens immediately.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry "Bring it on. Walking away is not in my DNA." These are like cheesy lines from a bad Clint Eastwood movie. I wonder what a woman who has been caught up in the CervicalCheck scandal would think of them. What would an old person who has spent a night on a trolley think of it? What would a young person who is suffering as a result of the Government's neglect of mental health services think of it? What would they think about the idea that Deputy Harris should resign as Minister for Health? I think many of them would support that. The country recently witnessed the second national nurses strike in the history of the State, on the Minister's watch. There is a crisis in recruitment and a crisis in retention, staring the Minister in the face, but he paid no real heed until three days of national strike action woke the Government up and forced the Labour Court to make a recommendation on the issue.

While Deputy Harris is the second Minister for Health to provoke a nurses strike, he is the first in the history of the State to have a national ambulance strike take place on his watch. Paramedics took to the picket lines on 22 January and 15 February but there was not an inch from the Minister's Department. He has effectively forced them to declare for strike again on Thursday or Friday of next week. The issue here is trade union recognition. The Minister could solve it with a stroke of his pen. He says he cannot recognise the union in question as he already recognises three unions in the National Ambulance Service. This union has more members than two of the other three put together and the Minister knows it. He cannot run from this issue.

The costs at the national children's hospital skyrocketed on the Minister's watch. The tender for electrical systems was €98 million. It rose to €157 million. The tender for mechanical systems was €107 million and rose to €177 million. The tender for the main construction project was €432 million. It rose to €556 million. Overall, costs ballooned by €450 million. The Minister knew the companies that he was dealing with. He knew that BAM had overshot its cost estimates at the port of Cork by €12 million. He knew that BAM had overseen a €21 million increase in cost estimates at the Cork event centre. Bidding low, winning contracts and then submitting increased cost claims is nothing new in corporate Ireland. Bring it on. It brought it on and the taxpayer will be forced to pay again on the Minister's watch. We will vote no confidence in the Minister but another Fine Gael Minister would most likely do no better, nor would a Fianna Fáil Government. We have no confidence in Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, nor do we have confidence in the capitalist market, which continues to play a major role in our health system and which rips the taxpayer off on key construction projects. On that basis, we will vote "Yes" on the no confidence motion in the Minister.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett People Before Profit will vote no confidence in the Minister for Health, not just because of his failures but because of the collective political failures of Fine Gael and three of its Ministers to protect our health service and deal with the litany of crises which beset that health service and inflict unbearable, unacceptable suffering and hardship on sick and vulnerable people who need that health service.

There were 512 people waiting on trolleys yesterday; 700,000 people on hospital waiting lists; a CervicalCheck scandal where the Minister, despite repeated appeals, refuses to identify the laboratories that gave the false negative; mental health services in a shocking state with only 50% of the recommended staffing levels under A Vision for Change; a medicinal cannabis access programme that was promised for people who are suffering and need it but which was never delivered; a nurses' strike that was brought on because of the failure of the Government to address unsafe staffing levels across our hospitals and a refusal to recognise that it was a result of poor pay for nurses; a National Ambulance Service strike that the Government is completely indifferent to as it unfolds and will not lift a finger to address even though it would not cost a cent; completely inadequate home care services for many of our elderly and disabled; a total failure to deliver on primary care commitments; general practitioners protesting because of an unprecedented crisis in general practice, and to top it all off, a complete inability to manage the finances that are required to deliver the health system coming to a head in the debacle around the national children's hospital. The Government under Deputy Varadkar said it will cost €650 million and it has spiralled to €1.7 billion and is rising.

The Minister should ask himself this very simple question. If I was Minister for Health and he was in opposition, and I was responsible for that litany of crises and failures, would he vote confidence in me? The answer is "No" and everybody knows it. For Fianna Fáil to refer to national sabotage for voting no confidence in a Government and Minister that has presided over those failures with all the hardship and suffering that has resulted from it is ridiculous. Is it not a form of national sabotage of our health system to leave people suffering on trolleys, on waiting lists, and in need of medicines that they cannot get, or to force strikes by healthcare workers who do not want to go on strike but have to because of unsafe staffing levels with chronic staff shortages in the health service? That is sabotage. There have been seven years of sabotage of the public health service by Fine Gael. We could not, in all good conscience, vote confidence in policies or Ministers that have presided over that debacle.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace The Taoiseach and Tánaiste told us there was a gross underestimate of the cost of building the hospital. Who underestimated it? Was it BAM? The contract was awarded on foot of a competition. BAM told the Government what it would cost. If there was a scope change, then the price would obviously go up, but if the scope was not determined, why did the Government go for a fixed-price contract? It did not give the price to BAM. BAM gave the price to the Government. It is not an issue of underestimating the true cost of the project but an issue of awarding a contract at a fixed price and letting it escalate because the Government used the wrong contract. The Tánaiste said that we must recognise that a significant mistake was made in this process when costs and quantities were being estimated. Who estimated them? Did the Government do a public benchmarking analysis prior to tenders going out to contractors? If so, who did it? Do they have insurance and will they be held to account?

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