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Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Tánaiste: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney] That is why reducing waiting times for patients for hospital operations and procedures continues to be a key priority for the Government. A total of €50 million was provided to the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, in 2018 to secure treatments for patients. On 12 April, the Minister for Health published a joint action plan between the HSE and the NTPF to reduce the number of patients waiting for treatment. Under the action plan, the number of patients waiting longer than nine months will fall by 10,000. The NTPF commits to offer treatment to all suitable clinical patients waiting more than nine months for treatment in a number of high-volume specialties, including cataract, hip and knee replacements, tonsils and scopes. The overall number of patients waiting for hospital operations and procedures is targeted to fall below 70,000 by the end of the year. Under the action plan the NTPF will work with both public and private hospitals to access treatment for those patients.

The May waiting list figures show that 78,500 patients were waiting for an inpatient or day case procedure, which is down marginally by 800 on the previous year, but down by almost 7,200 when comparing the year-on-year figures. The number of patients waiting longer than nine months for an inpatient or day procedure is now down 5,800 in comparison with May 2017. I am not saying that makes it acceptable - it is far from it - but what I am saying is that we are making some progress. Tackling the situation will require a combination of more staff, which is happening, more hospital beds, which is happening, and more reform consistent with the Sláintecare report, which is supported by all parties in this House. Very soon we will have a director to take charge of Sláintecare and over time we will see the continued commitment of the Government to bring down waiting lists across the multiple sectors the Deputy raised.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I must point out that it was seven years ago that the Government promised universal access to services, and we are now in a far worse position. It was the Government that got rid of the National Treatment Purchase Fund in 2012. That is directly contributing to an escalation in waiting times and waiting lists. It has only been reinstated because of the confidence and supply agreement and because of Fianna Fáil insisting that the National Treatment Purchase Fund would be reintroduced. There was huge resistance to that at the time. That is the only thing the Government can latch on to now to say it is beginning to have an impact, but only on the inpatient waiting list.

All of my figures relate to the outpatient waiting list in terms of gynaecology, ENT, orthopaedics and ophthalmology, and in particular children waiting more than 18 months to see a consultant. There is no impact on the outpatient waiting list whatsoever. The marginal improvement on the inpatient waiting list is due to the extra €50 million allocated to the National Treatment Purchase Fund, at our insistence, in the previous budget. Barring that, the fact is that 14 months on, there is no progress with Sláintecare. The Tánaiste should not expect us to believe that it is because we took our time to get somebody. That speaks to a lack of urgency around health and health services and about changing the figures for the elderly, children and people in general, so that elderly people do not have to travel to the North for a cataract operation or come to our offices seeking to work out how to get there. It is not acceptable in any shape or form. There has been a lethargy to the extent that one almost gets the sense that Fine Gael has written off the health services-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I am sorry, but the time is up.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin -----such is the lack of urgency and attention to the issues.

The Tánaiste: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I do find it a bit much when Deputy Martin tries to take credit for some of the things that are offering marginal improvements at the moment but takes no responsibility for his own actions and those of his party when in government. Fianna Fáil was the party that took beds out of the system when there was loads of money to spend.

Deputy John Lahart: Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart That was ten years ago.

The Tánaiste: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney The Government is now trying to put more than 200 beds back into the system. We need to be realistic about the challenge we all face. We have for the first time a collective agreement on how to take forward health policy. This Government had the maturity to talk to Opposition parties to ensure that regardless of whoever is in government in the years ahead-----

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy We saw the results in the previous election.

The Tánaiste: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney -----we would have some consistency of health policy, unlike in Deputy Martin's time in government.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Government is not taking it forward.


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