Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Fine Gael has been in charge of the Department of Health since March 2011. We have come out of the austerity years and are now, I hope, in a position where we can bring the health system forward. Funding for the Department of Health and the HSE has grown from €14.2 billion in 2011 to €17 billion this year. As others have made clear, the Government has serious questions to answer about how there was an explosion in costs for the national children's hospital. It has serious questions to answer about how other hospital investments will be delayed or perhaps cancelled throughout the country as a result. It also has to fix the terrible problems stemming from the CervicalCheck scandal, not least the waiting times for checks to be processed that are inexcusably long.
I want to focus on the Government's record in managing negotiations. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation is on strike. Those involved will be going on strike for a third day tomorrow. Where is the Government's ability to handle this situation? Why can it not sit down and engage in a serious process of negotiations well in advance of an actual strike? After nearly eight years in the Department of Health, I would have thought Fine Gael would have developed working relationships with all the major stakeholders, yet it seems years have slipped by and it has been unable to get to grips with these issues. We are now hearing concerns about the awareness of cost over-runs for the national children's hospital dating back to August 2017, one year before the Minister for Health was informed, apparently, and 15 months before the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform was informed. It is his job, as set up by statute, to monitor public expenditure. The notion that the Minister for Health would know that he had to get all of the facts and that it took him three months to tell the Minister whose job it was to mind the money that there was a problem is startling.
The Government has been negotiating a new contract with general practitioners for at least four years with no outcome. In order for the programme for Government commitments to roll out more primary care centres to be achieved, we need to have the GP contract agreed to. In order for the Government's own commitments to provide free GP care for all children and young people under 18 years to be realised, we need to have the new GP contract agreed to. The latest report is that the Minister for Health began a new round of negotiations with the Irish Medical Organisation in October last year. I have two direct and simple questions for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. What progress has been achieved in the negotiations on the new GP contract? When, in his estimate, will the GP contract be signed off on and delivered in order that the programme for Government commitment signed off on by the Government will be brought to fruition?