TROLLEY CRISIS – Reopen the Accident and Emergency departments at Nenagh General Hospital and Ennis General Hospital, reopen Our Lady’s Hospital Cashel and lift the moratorium on both staffing and home help hours.
From 2002 on, successive Governments have espoused and implemented the downgrading of hospitals and the transfer of acute hospital services to so-called centres of excellence. We all know that that policy has created chaos. It was wrong then and it is wrong now, and it should never have happened.
We in South Tipperary were lucky, that people power, that 15,000 people on the streets stopped the transfer of our services to other areas, but other areas were not as lucky. It is now time to recognise that failure of policy and reverse that policy failure.
The trolley figures are a clear example of the chaos. Those figures, and we are talking about human beings on trolleys in accident and emergency departments, on corridors and in wards are a clear example of the chaos, are a clear example of the failure and a clear example of the indignity suffered by thousands upon thousands of patients over the past ten years. The figures for October, 11,452, are absolutely outrageous. The figures are climbing year on year, and of course we haven’t really entered Winter at all yet.
One of the areas which has suffered the brunt of the policy that I am speaking is the mid-west, including Limerick, Clare and north Tipperary, which is part of my constituency. There are knock-on effects at South Tipperary General Hospital in addition. University Hospital Limerick and South Tipperary General Hospital consistently among the highest trolley figures in the country. Today’s trolley figures are absolutely obscene. Patients are suffering and patients are dying on trolleys in our emergency departments, something the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine has warned us about for the past number of years. Today’s figures are the second highest ever recorded.
Mary Harney, the former Minister for Health, declared an emergency when there were 602 patients on trolleys. Today there are 679 patients on trolleys. The particular problems at University Hospital Limerick and in Clare and north Tipperary started with the closure of the accident and emergency departments at Nenagh General Hospital and at Ennis General Hospital. There is now a campaign locally and there have been a number of very successful meetings to demand the reopening of the Accident and Emergency departments both at Nenagh General Hospital and at Ennis General Hospital
The chaos resulting from the policy I have described has been compounded by two moratoriums. Everybody in this Chamber, including the Taoiseach, knows they are real.
We have a moratorium on the recruitment of staff. There are currently 432 vacant posts for staff nurses, public health nurses and staff midwives. There are more than 500 nurse vacancies in mental health services. I know three nursing posts have been vacant for the past six months in South Tipperary mental health services, in the child and adolescent mental health services and a Clinical Nurse Specialist for mental health services in the accident and emergency department in Clonmel.
Is it now time to accept that the policy of downgrading hospitals has failed and that the policy should be reversed? Isn’t it now time to agree to the reopening of the accident and emergency department in Ennis and Nenagh? And isn’t it now time finally to recognise what we all know that there is a moratorium on both staffing and home help hours and that that moratorium should be lifted immediately.
I have to say that I am shocked at the lack of urgency that the Taoiseach displays, almost indifference, almost as if this situation is normal. The trolley figures are absolutely obscene. We have people suffering on trolleys in our hospitals and people are dying on trolleys in our hospitals. The Taoiseach is the leader of this country and I have to say that he has a responsibility for this obscenity, he has a responsibility for the suffering and a responsibly for the deaths of these people on trolleys in our hospitals over recent years, a position that continues to this day. The Taoiseach can solve this problem.
He absolutely can solve this problem. I ask him to introduce immediately a supplementary budget to tax the 1%, the very wealthy people, the billionaires who own 27.3% of all the wealth in this country. They are not paying their fair share now, nor have they ever done so. I want the Taoiseach to reopen the accident and emergency departments at Nenagh General Hospital and Ennis General Hospital and to reopen Our Lady’s Hospital Cashel, a state-of-the-art hospital which has been vacant for the past ten years. The Taoiseach has the responsibility to solve this problem. He can do it. The question is whether he has the political will to do it.
It is disgraceful that parents had to take to the airwaves to demand that the decision to cut summer respite services for children with special needs run by the Brothers of Charity at St. Rita’s in Clonmel be reversed. I commend those parents, who have been superb advocates for their children and for the disability family. The Minister of State will know that they are under pressure on a daily basis, 365 days a year. They did not need the additional frustration, worry and annoyance of the past year. These parents are entitled to and due an apology.
For years, those parents and we as TDs called for Summer respite services. Thankfully, that was eventually established in 2018, and last year’s Summer camp was professionally run, hugely successful and very valuable to both the children and the parents. Some 20 families were supported at very reasonable costs. Parent power has now saved that Summer camp. I again commend the parents for the campaign they have launched over the past week on the radio and by contacting their public representatives and the wider public.
Today I asked the Minister of State Finian McGrath to explain the exact situation in relation to this year’s Summer camp. I asked had the decision to cut this service been fully reversed? Have the Brothers of Charity been notified of this decision? Will the same level of service be available this year as last year? Will the same level of funding be available this year as last year?
Minister McGrath stated in part of his reply that the South East Community Healthcare, SECH, provides children’s respite services in two locations in south Tipperary including the Brothers of Charity camp in St. Rita’s respite services. In addition, SECH provides outreach and home-based respite to children with challenges accessing centre-based respite for a number of reasons including those confined to home for complex medical reasons or difficulty socialising safely with other children as a result of emerging diagnosis and responsive behaviours. He stated that the HSE is fully committed to maintaining the same level of service this year as in 2018. The additional funding provided last year will continue in 2019 and, in particular, the €2 million allocation to be spent on alternative respite services remains a high priority for the HSE. SECH acknowledges the quality service provided by St. Rita’s and will ensure that the necessary resources required for the Summer respite programme in St. Rita’s will continue to be provided to the Brothers of Charity in 2019.
I welcome this reply from the Minister, particularly the statement he made that the necessary resources required for the Summer respite programme in St. Rita’s will continue to be provided to the Brothers of Charity in 2019. That will be a relief to parents. It is a pity it had to come to this and the turmoil parents have been put through over the past week. It should never have been allowed to happen and I certainly hope it will never happen again. I asked the Minister of State to confirm that this respite service will continue next year and into the future. This service is essential for children with special needs and their families.
The Minister stated that when he left the Chamber he would be asking who put the parents through this particular situation. He stated that he is very much aware of the importance of access to planned respite, which ensures that people with disabilities receive opportunities to socialise and facilitates families to receive a break from caring, to preserve the family unit and to provide stability. He added that he gave a commitment three years ago that he would reform the disability services, invest in them, and put the person at the centre of those services, that there was a need to expand those services and that was his objective.
I will as always continue to follow up and keep you updated.
Nobody with a whit of common sense believes the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohue, and indeed the Government were not aware of the national children’s hospital debacle. It is in fact now crystal clear that the Minister for Health and the Minister for Finance were fully aware of the huge hospital overrun at the time of the last budget. The Minister for Finance had the chief Government procurement officer on the board of the hospital who was involved at all levels, including financial sub-committee level. The cover-up included confidentiality pledges to ensure the Government would not be formally or officially informed until after the budget. And why was that, that was because this Government wanted to continue to give huge tax concessions to the super-rich backers of this Government.
There is no justification for the Government delaying health and other capital projects using the excuse of the cost overrun on the children’s hospital project. The hospitals serving my constituency of Tipperary, South Tipperary General Hospital and University Hospital Limerick, are the most overcrowded in the country. I want to tell the Minister for Health that no cancellation, no suspension, no long-fingering and no delaying of capital projects affecting Tipperary will be tolerated and I include in that the completion and opening of the 40-bed modular unit at South Tipperary General Hospital, the building of a new 50-bed unit at South Tipperary General Hospital, the building of a new 100-bed unit at St. Patrick’s Hospital in Cashel and the building of a 60-bed unit at University Hospital Limerick.
The Irish super-rich are dripping with wealth and gaining more by the day. The Government’s policy is not only not to tax the super-rich but also to give them tax concessions. The Government is in fact the politically extremist representative of the super-rich at the expense of citizens generally in this country. I believe the Government should bring forward an emergency budget to claw back the €250 million worth of tax concessions given to the super-rich in the last three budgets, and I include in that those given to the 25,700 individuals with incomes ranging from €200,000 and in excess of €2 million.
It is time for the Minister for Health to go and to take the Minister for Finance with him and give the public an opportunity to make a decision on this Government in a General Election. It is time for Fianna Fáil and the Independents who are supporting the Government, it’s time for Deputies Lowry and Cahill and other Independents to call it out on this issue and support the motion.