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 Header Item Hospital Waiting Lists: Statements (Continued)
 Header Item Visit of Moldovan Delegation
 Header Item Business of Dáil
 Header Item Leaders' Questions

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 938 No. 2

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Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris The Deputy is correct.

Deputy Aindrias Moynihan: Information on Aindrias Moynihan Zoom on Aindrias Moynihan It would release those people on to theatre and not have them sitting on waiting lists.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris That is why we have already made sure the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, knows its allocation, not just for this year, but for 2018 of €55 million to ensure it can immediately start processing that to ensure there are no gaps.

Visit of Moldovan Delegation

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Before proceeding with business, on my own behalf, and that of the Members of Dáil Éireann, I offer a céad míle fáilte, many, many welcomes, to His Excellency, Mr. Andrian Candu, Chairman of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova. I hope he and his delegation enjoy their visit to Ireland and find it mutually beneficial.

Business of Dáil

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I call on the Government Chief Whip to propose arrangements for the taking of this afternoon's business.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty It is proposed, notwithstanding the Order of the Dáil of 7 February 2017, that: the proceedings of Second Stage of the National Famine Commemoration Day Bill 2017 shall not take place today; the motion re the ninth report of the Committee of Selection and statements on proposed terms of reference and draft Commission of Investigation (Certain matters relating to two disclosures made by members of An Garda Síochána under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014) Order 2017 shall take place immediately after questions on promised legislation; the motion re ninth report of the Committee of Selection shall be taken without debate; statements on the proposed terms of reference and draft Commission of Investigation (Certain matters relating to two disclosures made by members of An Garda Síochána under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014) Order 2017 will be brought to a conclusion at 4 p.m.; the statement of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a member nominated in their stead, will be ten minutes each; a second round of 30 minutes in total for members of the Government, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin to be divided proportionally on a 40:40:20 basis, respectively; five minutes for all other members on subsequent rounds; a ten-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State; all Members may share time; the weekly divisions will take place at 4 p.m. and the House will suspend thereafter for 30 minutes; and parliamentary questions to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will take place on the resumption of the sitting.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Is that agreed? Agreed.

Leaders' Questions

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath In a week where the cruel impact of the deficiencies in our health service on ordinary people was exposed by the "RTE Investigates" programme, we learned hospital waiting lists are still getting worse. In response to Monday’s programme, we have had much empathy and eloquent words from the Minister for Health. I do not doubt his sincerity. However, we need decisive action that will make a tangible difference to the people affected.

The latest hospital waiting lists for January are staggering. Over 632,000 people are on a waiting list of some form or another, almost 13% of our population. More than one in eight people are now on a waiting list. This is indeed truly shocking, extraordinary and frightening.

Nurses and midwives have decided to engage in industrial action because they have lost faith in the ability of the Government and the Health Service Executive, HSE, to deal with the acute nursing shortages across our health service. It is clear nurses and midwives do not want to engage in industrial action. It is not what they are about. They want to be at work providing the best service they can for the patients they serve. It has been evident for quite some time that nurses and midwives are deeply frustrated with the environment in which they have to work. They say it is unsafe for themselves, for the patients they serve and for other health professionals. The kernel of this dispute lies in staffing, recruitment and retention. In truth, it has been brewing for quite some time.

I acknowledge there have been efforts by the Government and the HSE to recruit more nurses and midwives. However, it has met with little success. A shortage of nurses and midwives hurts. It is not victimless. The shortage of nurses means operations get cancelled. Last year, 37,000 operations were cancelled, up over 50% from the previous year. The shortage of nurses means that acute beds cannot be filled. Even today, over 100 acute beds in our hospital system cannot be filled while, at the same time, people are lying on hospital trolleys. The shortage of nurses means, in essence, that patients are not being served in the way they should. The goodwill of nurses and midwives has helped to keep the system chugging along. They have had enough, however, and who can blame them?

What is the Government’s plan to deal with imminent industrial action by nurses and midwives? What reassurance can the Tánaiste give patients across the country that the situation will not get worse? They are frightened by what has been revealed about the current state of our health service, especially around waiting lists, hospital trolleys and so forth. Now, they learn of this industrial action which has the potential to make matters worse. It is happening because nurses have simply had enough. We need a reassurance from the Tánaiste as to what the Government will do to prevent this industrial action, which is less than four weeks away.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I agree with Deputy Michael McGrath that the threat of industrial action is not victimless. Undoubtedly, people would suffer if we were at that point. It is certainly something the Government and every Member wants to avoid. We do not want to be in that place.

I shared the deep disappointment of both the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, when they heard the outcome of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, executive committee meeting the other night. Significant efforts were made to resolve this issue by all sides, namely, the HSE, the Department and the INMO. Unfortunately, we still have a situation where the announcement was put forward and the INMO rejected the proposals. Every effort was made to reach agreement.

The Minister, the HSE and the INMO recognise the challenge of recruiting and retaining nurses in the public health system. It is no consolation to patients and those who use the health services that this is an international problem. However, the truth is that almost every public health service in the world is having the same difficulty in attracting nurses. It is an enormous challenge but one we are determined to meet.

The initiatives put forward at the discussions included a commitment to substantially increase the nurse and midwifery force in 2017 with 1,208 additional funded posts coming on stream, offering all graduate nurses and midwives full-time contracts, a career break scheme, 130 additional undergraduate places in 2017 and improved educational opportunities and career pathways. Obviously, it was felt this was not enough.

The next step is that there is a meeting this afternoon of the Lansdowne Road agreement oversight group. I encourage everybody involved to make every effort to come to an agreement on the issues which I have outlined. It is clear people have to engage seriously on this. There is time as the threatened action is several weeks away. I encourage everyone to get involved in these talks. The HSE and the Department remain open to detailed discussion to resolve the dispute to ensure we do not arrive at a point where, as the Deputy said rightly, patients would suffer.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath Will the Tánaiste give a commitment today that meaningful engagement will actually take place between the Government, the HSE and the INMO? I do not believe the Lansdowne Road agreement oversight group is going to be the forum for resolving this issue. The Tánaiste outlined what was in the document put forward by the HSE and the Government but it was rejected.

I did not say the industrial action is not victimless. I said the shortage of nurses and midwives is not victimless. That is what is at the root cause of this dispute. Until the Government recognises that, then we are not on the way to resolving this issue. The Minister said 1,200 nurses will be recruited over the course of the year.

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