Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Hospital Waiting Lists: Motion [Private Members]
I welcome the opportunity to address the motion. The constituency that I represent, Laois-Offaly, has witnessed the healthcare system struggle consistently for years. This is despite the exceptional work of the front-line staff in the services. There are now almost 30,000 people in Laois and Offaly on hospital waiting lists. This is from a population of 150,000. In Laois, 13,411 are on outpatient waiting lists and 2,038 are on inpatient waiting lists. In Offaly, 11,572 are on outpatient waiting lists and 1,709 are on inpatient waiting lists. As has been said in this debate, behind each of those figures is an individual who is suffering deteriorating health, delayed diagnosis, which obviously leads to other problems, stress and dreadful pain. People are waiting for hip replacements and so forth, and it is unacceptable that they are fed with painkillers year on year, which leads to them developing ulcers and other health problems. The Minister and I have seen that in our constituency offices and we must stop it.
The hospital waiting list crisis can be resolved. I know it is a challenge, but no job is easy, particularly turning around our health system. It requires leadership and commitment. This means facing down the vested interests. The Minister knows what they are better than me because he has had a closer look in the last year. In the 11 years I have been a Deputy and in the decades before that when I was a councillor, I got a glimpse of what it was like. Those private vested interests need to be faced down. Hospital managers must be running hospitals, not private consultants. That is what happened in Cappagh, if it was traced back to what went on. The hospital managers must run the hospitals.
Our motion sets out some of the solutions and our vision for resolving the crisis. We would introduce single integrated waiting lists. That is one of the can-dos. It is a system that we believe would significantly speed up the process and reduce waiting times across the hospitals. We would also provide a major capital fund to increase the number of beds, staff and capacity within the system. This is the type of ambition that we must see from the Government. What is particularly worrying, however, is that we are not seeing the progress that is necessary. Sláintecare is one example. This is very concerning. I pinned a great deal of hope on Sláintecare, as did other Members. The report notes that there is still no waiting list management and reduction plan in place, despite the waiting list in the State being at 907,648. There is an estimated €300 million which will go unspent in the health budget this year, despite the Covid-19 pandemic. If this is not happening, that is good. The money is there and it must be well used.
Over 700 consultant posts are still vacant. I heard what the Minister said earlier and that is welcome, but there are still over 700 vacancies. I do not see an urgency to address this from the Government. We must be training and promoting doctors into those essential vacancies. There should also be public-only contracts for consultants to work in the public system, unlike the current mess where they do private work during their working day in public hospitals. That must stop. There must be new public-only contracts for the new consultants coming in.