Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I will move on to a topic that the Taoiseach does have some control over, since he seems to have no control over childcare facilities. In one of the last Leaders' Questions put to the Taoiseach in 2019 before the Christmas holidays, it is apt to mention the deplorable state of the health service. In particular, I refer to Letterkenny University Hospital and the legacy of this Government to date.
This week the HSE published its national service plan for 2020, following approval from the Government. While it includes several measures, the plan will not specifically address bed capacity or staffing issues at Letterkenny University Hospital and it does nothing to end the current HSE embargo. The plan for 2020 has been allocated a budget of €17.4 billion by the Government. This is a record-breaking budget, the largest in the history of the State. While this represents a 6.3% increase in funding compared with 2019, it is clear that the plan will do nothing to alleviate the effect of the current HSE embargo on the quality of healthcare in Letterkenny University Hospital and across Donegal.
The embargo, or, as the Taoiseach continues to call it, the interim control measures, was introduced in April and was supposed to last for only three months. As we enter 2020 with the HSE service plan in place for next year, this embargo is no longer a so-called interim measure. It has been reported that as part of the Government's official directions to the HSE when drawing up its service plan, the Department of Health sought to maintain the employment restrictions. That means hospital overcrowding at Letterkenny University Hospital will continue, as will the staffing crisis at that hospital and the resulting decline in patient safety. Letterkenny University Hospital has some of the highest numbers of patients on trolleys this year, with 47 people waiting when I last raised this issue with the Taoiseach in November. This problem is not confined to Letterkenny University Hospital but also applies to community services right across the county. In Donegal alone, more than 100 posts lay vacant despite being approved by the national recruitment service. The embargo is here to stay, and if this Government returns after the next election, it will continue.
What is worrying is that the HSE has indicated that it will need an additional €420 million to address demographic, technological and other pressures and to tackle unmet need. An extended and more intense recruitment embargo will continue as a result. This vicious cycle will remain in place if Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil continue with it. It is up to the Taoiseach to break this cycle. Will the Taoiseach signal an end to the HSE embargo or interim control measures in 2020?