Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 May 2024

Delivering Universal Healthcare: Statements


3:00 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to contribute, however briefly. I want to put it in perspective for Galway city. I am conscious of what the former Taoiseach said regarding improvements. I acknowledge improvements, the extra consultant contracts, the abolition of charges and so on. However, we have a jigsaw of pieces with no overall picture of universal care. There is a background to that. It is deplorable that we have made very little progress. Yesterday there were 41 patients on trolleys. Which politician in this Dáil, including myself, ever spent time on a trolley? Yesterday in Galway city there were 41; today, there are 48. There was no mention of that by the former Taoiseach or by the Government. How can we talk about universal healthcare if that is the position - 48 people on trolleys? I acknowledge what the Minister for Health said about the number of staff from outside Ireland that keep our health service going and keep our hospitals clean. One in two midwives and nurses have trained outside the country, as well as two in five doctors. It is important to recognise that, given the deplorable discourse going on about immigration.

In 1948, we finally decided we were a Republic and became a Republic in theory in 1949. In 1948, the World Health Organization recognised: "The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition." Why? Because on every level it is good for us. It has an economic benefit because it reduces the need for expensive emergency care and hospitalisation. It provides better health outcomes. It promotes the common good in terms of solidarity and it leads to improved public health, early detection and consistent care, which can prevent problems. On every level, it is good.

The WHO has over the years since 1948 repeated the message of the advantages of universal healthcare to ensure every individual and community, irrespective of their circumstances, receives the health services they need, not based on money. Moving forward to 1978, the declaration of the Alma-Ata conference on primary healthcare recognised health and access to basic healthcare services as fundamental and quoted the WHO. Despite that, Ireland remains an anomaly in Europe in not providing universal healthcare.

In 2011, for the first time ever the Government committed to universal healthcare financed by universal health insurance. I am not quite in agreement with that but it was a major step. Nothing happened and the reform was abandoned.

Fast forward to 2016, when I came in here for the first time and the all-party committee made progress on an all-party policy, but very little has happened since. We now have a fragmented health service following a Progressive Democrats philosophy of making products of everything and selling them.

Today, in addition to those trolley figures, I was on the phone to somebody. This is anecdotal but it is reality. This person, through the privatisation of our health services, had treatment in Belfast, came back, was in trouble in Galway and was told to go back to Belfast because that was where the doctor in charge now was. We have utterly fragmented our service. While that number of people remain in trolleys in Galway city, the Clifden hospital is closed.

I will finish on a tangential but important point. I am aware I am over time and will be as quick as I can on vulnerability assessments for those vulnerable people coming to our shores. There is an absolute legal obligation on us to carry out vulnerability assessments but they are not being carried out. The last time they were carried out, 4,901 assessments took place over a three-week period and 2,712 were deemed vulnerable coming into the country, yet we have utterly stopped those assessments.


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