Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Hospital Waiting Lists: Motion [Private Members]
I had intended to respond to the debate by going through the Minister's opening speech and unpicking much of what he said. I will not do so, however, because I want to make a number of other points instead. Many Deputies have spoken tonight, from both Government parties and the Opposition, who obviously care about our health services. I care very deeply about healthcare. It is an issue in which I have taken an interest throughout my political career. For the 20 years I have been involved in politics, I have been interested in it because of what I have seen in my constituency. The Minister of State, Deputy Butler, is from the same constituency, as is Deputy Ó Cathasaigh, who was in the Chair before the Leas-Cheann Comhairle arrived. We have battled for radiotherapy services, a mortuary and cardiac services. People in the constituency have taken to the streets time and again to demand better healthcare. They have heard all sorts of promises, some of which were delivered over many years and others that were not delivered at all.
I also care about these issues because of the experience of my mam, whose story I have told before. She got sick a number of years ago and was ill for three or four months with stomach pains. Her condition got so bad over the Christmas period that my family brought her to University Hospital Waterford, where she was treated very well. She was taken into the emergency department, a preliminary inspection was done and she was told she would need a scan, for which, however, she would have to wait possibly six months. A staff member pulled the family members aside and told us: "I do not like what we have seen and the symptoms; you should take her to the private clinic and get a diagnosis." That is what we did and we paid for it. Other families would not be in a position to do so. She was diagnosed with cancer within three weeks and was then seen in St. James's Hospital, where she got very good treatment. Unfortunately, she passed away in the palliative care centre in Harold's Cross, the staff of which gave her tremendous care.
I vowed at that time to do everything I can to end the two-tier health system. That is why it is so important that we bring about these major reforms in healthcare. It is about people's experiences. It is absolutely unacceptable that we have a two-tier system whereby if one has money and wealth, one can get quicker and faster care, while people who do not must wait longer for treatment. The Minister talked about the situation of Sarah earlier, which I am sure was heartfelt, and how he was able to solve a problem in that case. However, there are hundreds of thousands of people like Sarah right across the public healthcare system for whom we must provide.
It might not come as any surprise to the Minister that I want to be sitting where he is and for him to be sitting where I am. I want to be a future Minister for Health. In seeking to achieve that, I believe we must not so much stand up to vested interests but work with people to bring about the big changes that are necessary. We will have to face hard choices. For example, if we want to remove private healthcare from the public system to achieve equality, we are going to have to do it, not talk about it. If we want to realise universal GP care, then we are going to have to do it instead of talking about it. That is what I meant earlier when I referred to the snail's pace of progress on some of the major reforms. If the Government comes under pressure on some of those big challenges, I will be standing with the people who want to implement the major reforms and deliver a single-tier Irish national health service. I will be standing firmly there because I want those changes to be made.
I have heard many politicians, from many parties, talk about the Ministry of Health as a poisoned chalice. We hear all the time in the media that health is the one portfolio Ministers do not want to get. In my view, it is the one they should seek first because of the changes they can bring about and the impact they will have on people's lives. For every one of the 900,000 people who are on a waiting list, all the children on waiting lists and all of those waiting too long for assessments or to get into hospital and receive treatment, the current system is a disaster we need to fix. The challenge is not just the numbers of people on the lists but also the length of time they are waiting. I accept that the Minister is going to put a plan in place. I have a limited number of staff but I have produced an alternative budget this year that is credible, realistic and deliverable. I will launch it on Thursday and, as always, I will send it to the Minister. There are solutions and I am prepared to work with anybody, including the Government, to make them happen. I hope that what comes from this debate is that, once and for all, a serious plan is put in place to tackle the waiting list crisis and make the health service work for everyone.