Seanad debates

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Commencement Matters

Primary Care Services Provision

2:30 pm

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, for his presence in the House today. I wish to discuss the lack of physiotherapy services in County Mayo, which have reached a crisis point.

Patients throughout County Mayo are not getting the physiotherapy they need. This includes children, post-operative patients, people with disabilities and arthritis and elderly people. If a person can afford to access private physiotherapy and he or she is able to travel, that person can get as much treatment as he or she needs. If that person is a medical card patient living on a low income, it is becoming increasingly impossible to get physiotherapy in County Mayo.The long-term damage of not being able to access physiotherapy is well documented. The physical pain experienced by many patients who are denied treatment is truly awful and the mental trauma of knowing permanent damage is likely to arise from delayed treatment is not acceptable. The solution to this crisis is very simple. An adequate number of physiotherapists must be appointed to meet the needs of those waiting for physiotherapy in Mayo.

Why are physiotherapists from the panels not being appointed? Why are applicants to physiotherapy panels not given the choice of which areas they would like to work in on their applications, rather than just being asked to define one area? People applying in the west should at least be given the opportunity to list the counties in which they would like to work in order of preference. If people are forced to say that they will work in Mayo, they can only choose Mayo. Somebody on the Mayo-Galway border cannot have his or her application considered for both counties. This is absolute nonsense.

I am particularly concerned that when physiotherapists go on maternity leave or long-term illness leave or move to another location the replacement process seems to meet an absolute dead end. It is not as if the HSE does not know when someone is going on maternity leave or when someone is going to retire. It has several months' notice, yet it does not respond by employing a replacement. Why is this? I know that three members of staff have left in the last three weeks alone, in addition to others who left in recent months.

It is not a surprise that physiotherapists are leaving. The pressure they are under to provide a service without having sufficient hours is unsustainable. When they are only able to see a child who needs weekly physiotherapy for one session every four to six weeks, it reflects on the integrity of the whole discipline and causes huge distress to the children, parents and the physiotherapists themselves.

It is also having a knock-on effect in other medical disciplines. People who should be fully recovered and active are having to be admitted to acute hospitals and having to go back to their GPs. This is all taking up valuable scarce resources. Patients from community and district hospitals are unable to be discharged because they cannot get the physiotherapy that would allow them to go home. These beds cannot then be used as step-down beds for acute hospitals, which backs up the accident and emergency departments and adds to the trolley crisis. In the meantime dozens of fully-qualified physiotherapists are forced to emigrate because they cannot find work in their own areas. I know one physiotherapist who has waited on a panel for months and who has now been offered €5,000 to relocate to Canada to work in the Canadian health service. Who is accountable for this debacle? What immediate actions will the Minister of State and the Government put in place to sort this out?

I will give the Minister of State an example of what is happening. Up to last September, physiotherapy for the Belmullet District Hospital and its community nursing unit was provided through primary care. A change was then made whereby this could no longer happen. Why did this happen? This is a crazy situation. There was already a backlog, which was being dealt with by a physiotherapist who was there. Will the Minister of State explain to me who, in their wisdom, decided that physiotherapy could no longer be provided to both of these facilities through primary care, but rather that it had to be provided through social care? There is absolute mayhem in the area of physiotherapy, in Mayo at least. I ask the Minister of State those questions specifically. What can be done to sort it out?


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