Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I suggest there really is something surreal about the way the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is trying to explain away what can best be described as an existential crisis across the public health service. Those in Fine Gael pride themselves on their management skills, efficiency and financial prudence, yet they are trying to justify what has been, in the period Fine Gael has been in office with three different Ministers for Health, namely, James Reilly, Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris, an absolutely extraordinary tale of failure and crisis.
GPs are protesting outside Leinster House as we speak over the crisis in general practice. There is a national nurses' strike and an ambulance strike. There is a persistent and unprecedented trolley crisis and there are hundreds of thousands of people on hospital waiting lists. There is a crisis in our mental health service where the child and adolescent mental health service, CAMHS, is 50% understaffed, there has been the scandal around CervicalCheck, and there are persistent overruns in the health budget running to hundreds of millions of euro. The cherry on top of all of this is the absolute disaster of the national children's hospital. When it was first touted, the national children's hospital was going to cost just over €400 million, but now the bill has reached €1.4 billion or €1.7 billion all in. Even by the Government's estimate, it is a €1 billion increase in the cost of the national children's hospital. Are we seriously supposed to believe the Government, when it says that this is not really its fault and it will get to the bottom of the matter, that it is in charge of things?
To add insult to injury, much of this is being batted off to PwC to find answers. This is PwC which worked for BAM, the contractor at the centre of this controversy, auditing its accounts for nine years, for which BAM paid it at least €34 million. BAM is a contractor with a history of massive overruns in Holland, Britain and Ireland. Now the company which audited them are apparently the people who will get to the bottom of the scandal of the national children's hospital. It beggars belief.
Why does the Minister try to explain away this €1 billion cost overrun, that is, €1 billion which will go into the hands of building contractors, but the Government digs in its heels against the nurses and says the nurses will not get a cent? The Government says it is okay, that it can explain away an extra €1 billion to building contractors but it cannot pay the nurses, the people who hold together what is left of the health service. It digs in its heels and refuses to engage with them seriously. The Government has made a mess of the health service under three successive Ministers. Why does the Government not just give it up and accept that it failed?