Dáil debates

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Financial Resolutions 2020 - Financial Resolution No. 7: General (Resumed)

 

2:40 pm

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)

On Tuesday, we announced an additional €4 billion in health spending. It is the largest health budget increase in the history of the State and a clear signal of how seriously this Government takes public healthcare. My three main priorities are improving access for patients, improving the healthcare experience for patients, and improving outcomes for patients. The budget delivers on all three of those priorities.

I will start with patient access. I am allocating €467 million to fund new hospital and community beds. This includes increasing permanent critical care beds by 25% next year. In our hospitals, I am allocating funding for an additional 1,146 acute and 135 sub-acute beds. I am allocating funding for an additional 1,250 community care beds. These are the biggest increases in modern times in critical care beds, acute beds and community care beds in one year. Funding is being provided for an additional 16,000 healthcare workers. This includes making permanent several thousand staff who were hired in response to Covid-19. It also funds 7,000 staff in community settings and 4,000 staff in acute hospitals. Acute beds will be staffed in accordance with the agreed safe staffing framework for nursing.

The impact of this pandemic on levels of unmet need is a major concern for me. For this reason, I have established an access to care fund of €240 million. Together with the funding for the National Treatment Purchase Fund, this will mean total funding of €340 million will be available to tackle waiting lists next year. Other funding includes access to diagnostics for GPs and I have allocated €50 million for access to new drugs for patients.

What of the patient experience? I am allocating €425 million for enhanced community and social care services. The funding includes provision for a number of community care initiatives. There will be an additional 5 million hours of home support next year to support hospital avoidance services and delayed discharges. I am allocating an additional €100 million to disability services. This is the biggest single increase in allocation to the disability sector ever. It is much needed and deserved and my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, will be leading this work. We are investing heavily in public health. I have allocated funding to double the public health workforce, with an additional €20 million for Healthy Ireland and €15 million for the national drugs strategy, including homelessness. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, will be leading the work in these critical areas.

My third priority is improving patient outcomes. I have allocated €159 million for nearly 2,000 additional staff to work directly in cancer services; maternity services; trauma care; paediatrics; ambulance services; fertility services; dementia care; and organ donation. This includes advancing the national strategies in these areas. We have fantastic clinical services and our clinicians have plans to make them even better. This requires funding. Cancer services will receive an additional €32 million, including €20 million for the national cancer strategy and €12 million to help restart cancer services. There is an allocation of €6 million for trauma care, which will ensure that phase 1 of the development of a major trauma care centre in Dublin will commence.

Women’s health and our maternity services must get more attention. In that context, I am delighted to announce an investment of €12 million in our maternity strategy for next year. This will be used to fund community-based midwifery services, specialist services and better access to allied health professional services and supports. We will also open two new regional fertility hubs in Galway and Cork. In addition, €5 million is being allocated to the women’s health task force. I have also allocated €50 million in funding to mental health services. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, will lead this vital work.

Budget 2021 also responds to Covid-19. Some €1.3 billion has been allocated to ensure personal protective equipment is available for those working across the health system and to continue to operate a comprehensive and nationwide testing and tracing system. A further €409 million is being provided for the extension of ongoing Covid-19 supports through next year.

This year has been difficult, trying and, at times, heartbreaking for every individual and family in this country, none more so than for our healthcare workers, those working on the front line and those working behind the front line supporting what front-line workers do every day.

Our doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, porters, cooks and everybody else working right across the system have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic. While Covid-19 has highlighted major challenges in our health service, it has also highlighted our strengths, including the resilience, professionalism, courage and innovative spirit of our healthcare workers. It has fast-tracked innovation across the system. E-prescribing was rolled out in a few weeks. Community assessment hubs were established. The use of telemedicine has soared. Times of huge challenge can also be times of opportunity. While not the same issue and certainly not of the same scale, let us not forget that Britain's National Health Service was born out of the ashes of the Second World War. Budget 2021 funds our Covid response. It is also about building capacity, hiring staff and bringing positive, permanent change to our health service. The investments made will mean that when the pandemic ends, Ireland will have a better and more resilient public healthcare system. Budget 2021 is a big step on the road to universal healthcare, to our Sláintecare vision, an Ireland where everyone can get the care they need when they need it. I commend the budget to the House.

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