Thursday, 7 February 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
There is a crisis in our health services and in the Government. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health have proved utterly incapable of resolving the various issues before us.
Yesterday, we had general practitioners outside Leinster House due to the lack of Government investment in primary care. Our hospitals have the worst waiting lists right across Europe. Last month, there were 10,000 on hospital trolleys. Last year was the worst year on record in terms of the constant trolley crisis. The debacle surrounding the national children's hospital is beyond farcical now and we are no further along in it being resolved.
The issue I want to talk about, and the question I want to put to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs today, surrounds the issue of 37,000 nurses and midwives who have engaged in another day of industrial action. It is a 24 hour stoppage as a result of a complete and utter failure on the part of the Government to deal with the issues of recruitment and retention that have gripped our health service for many years.
I met nurses this morning and I have met them on many occasions since this industrial action started in late January. Their message is very clear. Their message is crystal clear to Government. None of them wants to be out on the picket line. All of them want to do what they do best, that is, caring for patients in our hospitals. Their actions are not selfish because they are taking their action and their stand on behalf of every one of us. The public, the people at home, know that. That is why their actions have the support of people throughout every community in the State, because they know that nurses are fighting for a better health service for all of us. That is at the core of it. That is what the people understand. That is why they are standing with the nurses and midwives in this battle.
The Government has, to this point, refused to engage on levels acceptable to the nurses and midwives. Earlier this week we had the Minister for Health and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform issuing a joint press release stating that they were willing to engage in talks at the Workplace Relations Commission. They said they would engage in talks on everything bar what is at the core of this issue, which is the issue of pay. The Government has spouted that line time and again and it has been rejected by nurses and midwives and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, and rightly so.
It is time now for the Government to get real. It is time for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, as a Cabinet colleague, and the rest of her Cabinet colleagues to get their heads out of the clouds and deal with the issue at hand. The Minister said the Government will engage with the nurses but what the Government needs to accept and act on is the urgent need for that engagement without clauses or preconditions.
The approach that the Government has taken so far has failed utterly and dramatically. Let me be clear on this and let me spell it out to every Cabinet colleague. The Cabinet is putting patients at risk because nurses never put their patients at risk. The refusal and intransigence of the Government to deal with this issue on the basis of no preconditions is putting patient safety at risk. That is not surprising given this Government's record on health and the record of the Minister for Health. Despite this, within a number of days we will have industrial action involving a three-day stoppage planned for next week.