Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Health): Statements
Stephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
We heard from health officials on Tuesday that we could be dealing with Covid for years to come. In a Covid world, this is going to have a dramatic impact on our healthcare system and reduce the number of patients who can be seen. As the Secretary General said, it will cost more and take longer to do less. Hospital bed occupancy will drop from near 100% to 80%, which is the equivalent of losing about 2,000 public beds. The plan was to go from 10,000 beds to 12,600 over five years under Sláintecare. Instead, we are going from 10,000 to 8,000 in about two months. Radiologists tell me they will be able to scan about half the number of patients, so a sick child in need of an MRI who has already been told they will have to wait two years, in this world, will actually end up waiting four years. Outpatients' consultants have said they can see about half the number of people in any given session. Before Covid arrived, we had the longest waiting times in Europe to see these consultants.
In the new world if they can see half the number of patients in the same time, the waiting times would double. The pain, suffering and loss of life at this level of reduced capacity is almost unfathomable. We could be looking at a level of loss of life many times more than we already see, tragically, from Covid-19. Opportunities such as telemedicine have been referenced when I have raised this issue with the HSE but based on the scale of the challenge we need a root-and-branch review of how we will deal with this to ensure that not only does capacity not decrease by 20% to 50% but actually increases to deal with the lists. To this end, has a task force been set up? If so, has there been any progress? If not, is that something the Minister will consider doing as a matter of urgency?