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Health Services: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 828 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Sandra McLellan: Information on Sandra McLellan Zoom on Sandra McLellan]  I want to take the opportunity presented to me by this health care debate to raise the imminent closure of Mount Carmel Hospital in Dublin. This hospital is being allowed to close with hardly a murmur from the Minister for Health. While it is privately owned, we have been told by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation that at the time of last week's shock closure announcement, some 80% of the hospital's patients had been referred directly to it by the HSE from our public hospitals. Mount Carmel Hospital is not simply a private maternity hospital, as reported in the media. It has been providing a wide range of services and taking pressure from hard-pressed public hospitals. We are talking about 130 beds and 330 staff - 200 of them nurses - being removed from our health system. Why is this happening? Is it the case that the owners of Mount Carmel Hospital petitioned the High Court for liquidation at the behest of NAMA because their loans are in NAMA? This requires more detailed address by the Dáil and a detailed response from the Minister. I hope the Ceann Comhairle will accede to the request of Deputies for a Topical Issue debate on this pressing matter tomorrow or on Thursday. If something is not done in the next few days, this health facility will close, 130 beds will be lost and 330 experienced, qualified and dedicated staff will lose their jobs.

I wish to say a little more about the service plan. It has to be said that despite the untiring efforts of health workers, our service is not fit for purpose. The cuts introduced by Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party and Fine Gael have devastated front-line care. Some €4 billion has been taken out of our health services since 2008, while our people continue to pay the enormous debts of bankers and financial speculators. Thousands of people, including seriously ill and disabled children, are facing the loss of their discretionary medical cards this year. Accident and emergency services in hospitals throughout the State are under threat. Funding for nursing home beds is being cut. The knock-on effect of this is to put pressure on hospital beds. Prescription charges have been trebled by a Minister who condemned them when he was in opposition. All of this sends a clear message to the sick, the disabled, the elderly and anybody else who depends on the health service that they are far less important to the Government than investors, speculators and the markets. This is a grave injustice. Any Government that persists with such a policy is morally bankrupt. Sinn Féin is telling the Government that health care is a basic right and that the health service must not be diminished any further. It is beyond time for radical changes in the Government's health policy. We need a change of direction and we need it now.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Apparently, some Members of this House are disappointed that the media has been focusing on the Committee of Public Accounts in recent weeks. It has been suggested that the committee in question, rather than this Chamber, has been at the centre of parliamentary discourse. I do not know what Members are annoyed about, given that no Fianna Fáil Deputies are present for this part of the debate on a Private Members' motion that was tabled by their party. They have not had the courtesy to remain to hear contributions to the debate on their own motion. Equally, neither the Minister for Health nor the Ministers of State at the Department of Health are in attendance. I have stayed here until the very end of this evening's session to raise an issue that pertains to this motion, but the Deputies from the party that proposed the motion have not bothered to stay. The relevant Minister and Ministers of State are not here either. How can this place be taken seriously in that type of scenario?

Deputy John Perry: Information on John Perry Zoom on John Perry The Minister, Deputy Reilly, has just left because he has an appointment.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Surely one of the three Ministers or Ministers of State could have stayed.

Deputy John Perry: Information on John Perry Zoom on John Perry I will pass the Deputy's remarks on to the Minister.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan One speaker, please.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Deputies cannot complain about the Committee of Public Accounts when we have that kind of scenario in here.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I ask the Deputy not to invite argument.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Fair enough. Who would I be to argue with the Chair?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Absolutely.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I hold the Chair in high esteem.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan The Deputy and I could spend the whole night arguing about this, but we would be wasting the Deputy's speaking time. We would not want to do that.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I assure the Chair that I am happy to use one minute of my time to make that point.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan The Deputy is so generous.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn As a representative of Donegal North-East, the best example I can give in dealing with the substantive issue in this debate is the case of Letterkenny General Hospital. As Deputies will know, a serious flood last year affected the hospital's new three-storey building as well as the older part of the hospital. Approximately 40% of the hospital's floor space was contaminated by flood water. It was an unprecedented level of crisis for a hospital in this State. The response of the hospital's management and staff to that incident, both on the night it happened and during the clean-up in the days that followed, was absolutely heroic. It has been a substantial challenge for them to hold the place together since that time. However, the hospital's accident and emergency department has been overwhelmed in recent weeks. Contrary to what some people have suggested, this is not solely as a result of the impact of the flood. It is a reflection of the historic neglect of the hospital.

Letterkenny General Hospital is the seventh largest hospital in the State. Each year, it takes in approximately 21,000 inpatients, which is considerably more than some hospitals that have higher budgets. It is remarkable that it is designated as a general hospital rather than a regional hospital as it should be. It deals with 21,000 inpatients. It has the lowest budget allocation per inpatient and the lowest allocation of staff in the State. That has been the case for many years. It has been suggested to me that last year's flood and the response to it took the spotlight from the hospital's inevitable medical staffing crisis. The hospital has approximately six medical registrars, measured as whole-time equivalents, when it needs 16 of them. There is a real crisis in terms of that key component. It is not possible to sustain all the specialties in a hospital and man a 24-hour accident and emergency unit in the absence of the required number of medical registrars.

I would like to conclude by speaking about the historic neglect of certain hospitals in various parts of Ireland. I refer, for example, to the manner in which junior doctors are allocated from the training hospitals. It is right that the taxpayer, through the HSE, subsidises those training hospitals. However, there does not seem to be a means of ensuring these key staff are allocated fairly to other hospitals. I want to use this debate to call for that to change. This is not some parish pump thing. The facts are the facts. It is a fact that Letterkenny General Hospital has the lowest budget allocation per inpatient and the lowest allocation of medical staff in the State. That was the scenario before the flood. We want to see the full restoration of Letterkenny General Hospital. I am not just talking in terms of capital. We need to ensure the hospital has enough staff to run effectively. I will make three recommendations in that context. First, Letterkenny General Hospital needs to be upgraded to regional hospital status. Second, there needs to be a fair allocation of staff and budgetary resources to the hospital, based on its number of inpatients. Third, and most immediately, there needs to be an allocation of medical registrars to the hospital, especially given that we have heard from the most senior staff at the hospital that it is facing a staffing crisis in this key area. I call on the Minister of State to pass this urgent message on to the Minister and Ministers of State at the Department of Health. The staff of the hospital should be met half way. The Government should respond to the heroism of the staff and management of the hospital by giving them what they need to do their jobs.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Before the House adjourns-----

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle I understood I had five minutes.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Yes, you have.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle If we could prevent the cutbacks in the health services as easily as we prevented the cutting short of this debate, it would be a good turn of events. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Deputy Breen referred to the doom and gloom merchants on the Opposition benches. I wonder whether he considers the chief executive of the HSE, Mr. O'Brien, to be a doom and gloom merchant, given that he has said that this year's HSE funding cuts may not be in the best interests of patient care.


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