Wednesday, 1 February 2017
Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016: Second Stage
Fianna Fáil will support this Bill, which makes necessary changes in several areas. I welcome the amendment of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009, which underpins the fair deal scheme, to exclude ex gratiapayments to patients of the Lourdes Hospital redress scheme, the Lourdes Hospital payment scheme, the symphysiotomy payment scheme and schemes for individuals disabled by thalidomide, as well as the Magdalen laundry redress scheme that was catered for in a previous Act in 2009.
Separately I acknowledge the importance of including several over-the-counter medications under the general medical service, GMS, scheme for people with medical and long-term illness cards. It includes nicotine replacement therapy and emergency contraception. Unfortunately, however, prescription charges are not covered in this legislation and as we are all aware, prescription charges have increased in recent years from 50 cent per item to €2.50 per item. I believe this sole action discriminates against elderly patients who have many core mobility issues and are on multiple drugs but not of their own free will. I have always advocated a flat prescription fee or, ideally, no prescription fee should be put in place because in that way people who are vulnerable will not be jeopardised. This charge diminishes the quality of life of elderly citizens. As for the nicotine replacement therapy, it is worth remembering that there are almost 31,000 hospital admissions per year for cigarette-related illnesses in this country at a cost of €5,400 per admission. This equates to a staggering €164 million per year. To put this in perspective, the Minister afforded €40 million to the winter initiative.
Fianna Fáil fully supports the introduction of legislation to allow the Minister to make regulations to add certain elements to tobacco packaging and we published our legislation on this issue in 2012. Cigarette companies use marketing techniques to deliberately target young people. The Marlboro brand, identified by its iconic red chevron, is worth $21 billion, which is truly staggering.
In September 2015 the Seanad passed a Second Stage reading of a Private Member’s Bill, the Longer Healthy Living Bill, introduced by the Independent Senator, Professor John Crown. The Bill was supported through Second Stage by Senators from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour, Fine Gael and the Independent benches. The then Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, did not oppose it and highlighted a few suggestions including minor technical changes to improve it. During that debate the Minister stated "In terms of recruitment, there is an international shortage of consultants, doctors and nurses." I have been examining the retirement of key personnel in the health service. It has now reached the point where significant changes are required. There are too many times when critical professionals within the health services are forced to retire due to their age and for no other reason. Our current health system is embattled by staff shortages, shortage of senior consultants, not enough general practitioners and a dearth of highly qualified specialist nursing staff. As Professor Crown said during the debate "Are we so flush with trained, experienced staff that we can afford to offload them involuntarily?" Since being elected to the Seanad I have engaged widely on this topic and while it does not address conditions, pay or otherwise, it is an evidence-based solution to an ever increasing problem.It is my intention to submit extensive amendments on Committee Stage which will be designed to allow health professionals to postpone their retirement with the mutual agreement of their respective employers in the HSE, organisations funded directly by it, the Department of Health and all other major health service providers. To ensure the amendments would be workable, I have reviewed and taken cognisance of the issues identified by then Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, during that debate. I am seeking to incorporate them into the amendments I will be tabling on Committee Stage.