Wednesday, 24 May 2017
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. The reason I have brought this matter to the attention of the Minister and the Minister of State is because I am looking for a formal structure to be put in place for meetings with the HSE. I will give a rough guide of what has been happening to me in Carlow. In August 2016, I requested follow-up on Tír na nÓg respite services. I was told the HSE would come back to me, which it did not. On 29 March I sent an email. I wanted to familiarise myself with the HSE and find out how I could meet the Department. Again, I was to get a response. On 10 April 2017 I received a reply enclosing an information booklet for Oireachtas Members of the Thirty-second Dáil and the Twenty-fifth Seanad, which I had already received on 7 March. As this was not what I had requested, on 15 May I again requested a meeting and provided a list of items I wanted to discuss, but I never heard anything back. On 17 May I got back in touch with the HSE to request meetings. Today, I received a reply with the same booklet. It is constantly sending me the booklet. As I mentioned, this is not what I originally wanted.
My colleague on Carlow County Council, Councillor Arthur McDonald, is a representative on the HSE's regional health forum. On three occasions I have requested a meeting with officials but have not heard anything back. Three notices of motion were tabled but I never heard anything back. Several weeks ago, a meeting was held and Councillor McDonald again asked that I meet officials. Again, I heard nothing back. Holy Angels Day Care Centre has also been seeking a meeting but has heard nothing from the Department.
Several weeks ago, the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, told me the ambulance service base building was going ahead. We have had no correspondence but it is meant to have started. I want to follow up on this. I also want to follow up on the Tír na nÓg respite service. There are palliative care issues in Laois and Carlow but we know nothing. In December, a proposal on medical cards with regard to youth mental health was submitted to the HSE but nothing has been heard on this. I want to follow up on this. Several months ago, an 82-year-old woman came to my clinic. She had fallen and went to Kilkenny hospital from where she was sent to Waterford because she dislocated her shoulder and Kilkenny does not deal with this sort of injury so that is fair enough.She was there and then she was sent home. The hospital then told her that it could not actually look after her because, ten years ago, when she had private insurance with VHI, she had hurt the same shoulder. She was told then that she did not qualify and that she would have to go back to her private health insurance. She said she was a medical card holder. That lady of 82 years of age was sent home from Kilkenny hospital and Waterford hospital, and told that the matter would be addressed. She was left in pain. I contacted the health board and heard nothing.
I then had problem with the dental services. The HSE closed the dental service in Bagenalstown so it means that any school-goers - for example those in primary school in fourth and sixth class - either have to go to Kilkenny or Carlow. I was looking for an update on that, and I believe other HSE services have been cut as well.
The other matter I want to address is that I spoke to a lady a few weeks ago who was in a motorised wheelchair. Over the weekend, I could not find anybody to fix her wheelchair because I did not know what Department to go to.
There are so many issues there that I need to speak to the HSE about. I need to find the avenues to deal with issues. I know I am not going to get everything sorted but there is a lack of communication and no word back on anything. No matter how many times I request meetings, I am fobbed off. We as Senators, councillors or anyone in our area who represent people need to meet with the HSE on a regular basis. I bring this up today because I am fed up of being fobbed off. I am asking for a solution.
When I submitted this matter I got three calls from the health board which I had not received before but I was here in the House and could not take them.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I would say at the outset, and I am sure the Senator would feel the same as a public representative, that we sometimes find it difficult to get back to people within the right timeframe. However, what the Senator has outlined and the various different events he described are not good enough. As public representatives, we do our best to get back to people. We expect that people we are working with will come back to us in a timely manner.
I thank the Senator for bringing this matter to my attention. I apologise on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris. Neither I nor the director general of the Health Service Executive were aware of any particular problems in this area. At the outset, I want to say that I speak not just for the Minister, Deputy Harris, but for all of our colleagues at the Department of Health and the director general of the HSE, and that we take our responsibilities relating to the democratic process and to Members of the Oireachtas very seriously.
The Department of Health processes approximately 8,000 Parliamentary Questions each year. As a significant number of the questions relate to service matters or are individual queries, the questions are referred to the HSE to provide direct replies to the Deputies or Senators concerned. To ensure that Members of the Oireachtas receive as effective a service as possible the HSE has a dedicated parliamentary affairs division, PAD. This is a national office and is responsible for all communication between the Houses of the Oireachtas, Department of Health and the HSE. The head of the PAD reports directly to the director general. To assist members of the Oireachtas in contacting the HSE, the PAD has a dedicated email address for Members, which I am sure the Senator knows. It is email@example.com. In March of this year, the PAD circulated an information booklet to all members of the Dáil and Seanad that included contact information for all hospital groups and community health organisations, CHO, but perhaps we might discuss that with the Senator later if that has not been any help to her.
The PAD also makes every effort to facilitate members of the Oireachtas in obtaining information outside the parliamentary process. For example, in the 12 months to May 2017, there were 28,000 email or phone engagements between Deputies and the primary care reimbursement service, PCRS, on national medical card matters. The PCRS has briefed Members of the Oireachtas on several occasions as to how it can cater to requests for information outside the parliamentary system. In addition, there are numerous engagements at CHO, hospital group, constituency and regional forum level. In September 2016, the director general wrote to all national directors, hospital group CEOs and chief officers of community health organisations, asking them to examine how they interact with Oireachtas members and local representatives outside of the parliamentary process, and to look at how current arrangements could be enhanced or improved.
On the particular issue that the Senator has raised, I understand that the head of the parliamentary affairs division has spoken to the Senator and has agreed to meet with her to resolve any difficulties she or any other Members on the Oireachtas may have in contacting local HSE officials. I would consider this to be the most appropriate course of action in the first instance and I would be confident that such a meeting will address any concerns the Senator has. If, following that meeting, and in the coming weeks and months, the Senator feels that she is not getting responses and is not getting the level of contact that she needs, I ask that she would come directly back to me or to the Minister, and we will try to address it.
I thank the Minister of State. I ask that she go back to the Minister and ask for some kind of structure such that the health board would meet with Deputies and Senators, even if only three times a year, and for there to be numbers that we can get and which are relevant. I understand that everyone is busy. That 82-year old lady was waiting for weeks due to issues relating to private health insurance. I cannot get back to her with news on whether her shoulder has been sorted. Communication and response are crucial here. If nothing else, I ask that the Carlow-Kilkenny section of the HSE come back with replies and meet with us. That is all I ask.