Tuesday, 21 June 2016
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. I apologise for not being present for the earlier part of the debate. Unfortunately, I had to honour a commitment. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, to the House. I have known her for a long time and know of her passion and commitment to public service. She has hit the ground running in what is an interesting, challenging, fruitful and rewarding portfolio. There will be tangible successes as a result of the personal commitment that she brings to everything she does. She worked on the justice committee in the previous Oireachtas, so I saw that at first hand. This is an exciting prospect.
It is appropriate that we debate health in the Seanad's first weeks. I welcome that a new conversation is developing. I have always adopted a positive approach in politics, even in the most difficult of circumstances. If we engage, be positive and seek consensus, we can achieve much. If we divide, we will be conquered by forces outside. If we unite, we can conquer.
I was heartened by the commitment in the programme for Government to an agreed ten-year plan for health. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris's first public comments after his appointment were in that vein. He wanted agreement and to set up an all-party Oireachtas committee that would devise the strategy for the next decade. This is appropriate, as health is not a political football, but a political issue. For too long, it has been a political football. All sides in the Oireachtas are to blame. People have seen the vulnerability of the health services and used it as a political football to gain traction in opinion polls, notoriety and votes. That is not an appropriate approach to health and the millions of people who depend on the health service.
We spend per capitamuch less on health than many other countries, for example, the Netherlands, Germany, etc. People claim that it is not a question of finances, only of how the resources are spent within the service, but I contend that it will remain a financial matter until such time as we realise that we cannot have first-class health services if we continue giving tax cuts in budgets. That is a difficult political decision to make. It is easy to knock 0.5% or 1% off various tax rates and doing so puts more money in people's pockets, which everyone likes and aspires to, but it means that there must be some give elsewhere. I would prefer no tax cuts and instead to see that money going into the health service in order to restore much of what has been removed in recent years.
We in this House have a role to play in the formulation of the ten-year policy strategy. I am unsure as to whether the select committee is being set up by the Minister to formulate that strategy, but I hope not. Rather, I hope that it is a joint Oireachtas committee. Some Senators have vast experience in this area. Senators Swanick and Reilly are GPs and Senators Freeman and Dolan have experience implementing health services and dealing with related issues, for example, mental health, persons with disabilities, etc. These people are in the House. They want to serve, make a contribution, engage and be part of the formulation of a ten-year strategy. No one expects everything to happen instantly - it happens incrementally - but the best way of ensuring that we have a health service that we can stand over and be proud of some day in the future is by agreement, consensus and pulling the various strands and expertise together.
The situation with accident and emergency services in the mid-west where I am from can only be described as diabolical. Reconfiguration happened even though the facilities were not in place to handle it. The 24-hour accident and emergency units in Nenagh and Ennis hospitals were closed and their services consolidated in Limerick, but there were no facilities in Limerick. The service is collapsing. Consolidation and reconfiguration should not have happened until such time as the new emergency department unit had been built and opened. I am glad that we will have a state-of-the-art emergency department in University Hospital Limerick in 2017, but the reconfiguration put the cart before the horse. It was bizarre.
The medical profession-----