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 Header Item Homeless Persons Data (Continued)
 Header Item Teachtaireacht ón Seanad - Message from Seanad
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2019: Message from Select Committee
 Header Item Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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  12 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy] That would not have been possible if we were not putting this huge amount of work into what we are doing. If we were not putting in place all these supports, such as those for the 27,000 households we will support this year with keys for homes, the numbers in emergency accommodation would be far higher. We need to bring them down. Supply is the answer to doing so, and we continue to drive that supply each year. It will only increase next year, as it did this year on the previous year.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Not in Dún Laoghaire.

Teachtaireacht ón Seanad - Message from Seanad

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Seanad Éireann has passed the Finance Bill 2019, without recommendation.

Estimates for Public Services 2019: Message from Select Committee

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Select Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimate for public services for the service of the year ending 31 December 2019: Vote 30 - Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I call on the leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin, to pose his first question. I remind the House that I was accused yesterday by some of giving an inordinate amount of time to some and not others. I therefore appeal to those who pose questions to keep an eye on the clocks. They are strategically located around the House, so there is no excuse.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is interviewing well for the big job.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Leas-Cheann Comhairle's indulgence is always appreciated in the season of goodwill.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher We will see.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin My colleague, Deputy Donnelly, who is our health spokesperson, has compiled the most comprehensive picture so far of the number of children waiting for healthcare in Ireland. It is not a good story and reflects quite badly on the Government. He has put together a staggering list of more than 214,000 children waiting for healthcare. Some 117,000 children are waiting for hospital appointments and treatment and another 90,000 are waiting for primary care appointments. One child in four has been waiting for more than a year, according to the list. This includes very sick children in need of urgent surgery. The list includes special needs children in urgent need of therapeutic supports such as speech and language therapy and occupational therapy, to name but two. It includes children waiting for psychology, diagnostic scans and much more.

I will give some examples. In ear, nose and throat, ENT, close to 3,000 children have been waiting over a year for an appointment. In paediatric cardiology more than 1,200 children have been waiting over a year for an appointment out of a total list of close to 5,000. In dermatology there is an overall list of 4,500, with 2,129 waiting for over a year. In ophthalmology, 4,000 children have been waiting over a year for an appointment. In psychology there are more huge figures, with more than 2,500 waiting over a year out of a total list of 7,000. We are aware of the issues in respect of mental health, specifically adolescent mental health.

This underpins the experiences of many in this House in dealing with many parents and families, who are exasperated, frustrated and very anxious about the failure to get assessments and regular access to therapeutic interventions. We know that early intervention, diagnosis and treatment are the key to a child's treatment, personal development and optimal outcomes. Worryingly, these figures understate the true picture. They exclude oral health, for example, and many diagnostic categories are not covered by the HSE. They are a terrible indictment of our health service and the Government's stewardship of it. There is a shortage of consultants, therapists and specialist nurses and there is, despite what the Taoiseach says, a moratorium on recruitment in place.

Will the Government remove the hiring embargo to enable the fast recruitment of doctors, therapists, radiographers and so forth? Will it remove the new entrant pay inequality for consultants in order that we can hire the number of specialists we need? Will it accelerate the hiring procedures for such specialist and clinical staff, whom we urgently require? For example, there is a chronic shortage of radiographers in Temple Street Hospital. In the interim, will the Taoiseach accelerate the provision of additional hospital beds for children, particularly in ICUs, rehab and ward beds across the system?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I note at the outset that it is very sad that there are so many people, so many children, on waiting lists for healthcare and therapies. It is not good enough. I know that and I feel it very much in my constituency work with the parents and children I meet from time to time who tell me of their personal stories.

It is only right, however, that we in this House acknowledge that waiting lists for healthcare are now falling. The NTPF figures show that the waiting lists for outpatient appointments - that is, for people waiting to see a specialist - have been falling consistently for three or four months in a row. It took years and years of investment and additional staff but we are now finally seeing those outpatient waiting lists falling. When I became Taoiseach two and a half years ago, more than 60,000 people had been waiting for more than 12 weeks for an operation or procedure. That figure is now down to approximately 38,000, or over a third in two and a half years. Much of this is down to the investment through the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, of which I know Deputy Micheál Martin was very supportive and which he advocated. We also see that the waiting times for general paediatrics are down approximately 30% so far this year. This is because of the new urgent care centre that has been opened in Connolly Hospital. The centre has a dedicated paediatric outpatient department. That is a big turnaround in one year. We also see that in child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, for example, the waiting list is down approximately 20% in the past year. This is not down to any waiting list initiative but to structural changes that have been led by the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, in employing a large number of assistant psychologists, moving away from a psychiatric model to a model based more on psychology. That is real progress as outpatient lists now have been falling for three or four months in a row; inpatient procedural lists are down by approximately one third from where they were two and a half years ago. Waiting times for general paediatrics - I know it is only general paediatrics, but that is an important part of paediatrics - is down 30% in the past year; and CAMHS waiting lists are down 20% over the past year. It took years and years of investment and additional staff to reverse the damage that was done, but I am glad I can now say and stand over the fact that waiting lists are falling, not increasing, after a very long time during which they went in the wrong direction.


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