Leaders’ Questions.

I welcome the Taoiseach and his inconsistent band of amnesiacs back from Disneyland, which they visited last weekend. I welcome them back to the reality that stalks the streets. The problems of the North Eastern Health Board have become symptomatic of what is wrong with the health sector under the Taoiseach's governance. There has been a litany of serious events in this health board area: the misconduct of a senior gynaecologist in Drogheda which affected the lives of dozens of women; the problems in Monaghan General Hospital such as the death of baby Bronagh Livingstone and the birth of another young girl on the way to Cavan General Hospital; and the problems in Cavan hospital which included the tragic death of a child following a routine operation and interpersonal rows. There have been 15 cases in Cavan hospital of what were officially called adverse clinical incidents but to the public were medical mistakes which have resulted in suffering for patients.

These are the realities of the health service: the failures, shortages, inaccessibility, inequity, queuing and misery facing patients who are on trolleys day in, day out. They are compounded by the false promises made by the Taoiseach and members of the Government in recent years. It is now obvious that members of the Government are prepared to say, do and promise anything to stay in power.

On 7 May 2002 the Taoiseach made a specific commitment to the people. He said that Fianna Fáil would permanently end hospital waiting lists within two years irrespective of any downturn in the economy. That promise left no room for doubt. The words used were not "seriously reduce" or "dramatically reduce"; they were "permanently end". In the 22 intervening months the numbers on waiting lists have increased by at least 2,000.

It was the height of hypocrisy and the ultimate in brass neck for the Taoiseach to state, while speaking in this House and to the nation last weekend, that his Government would permanently end waiting lists. When did he understand that this promise would not be met? How can people believe a word that comes out of his mouth when speaking of the area that is now of greatest concern to everybody, the health sector?

I have recently answered a number of Deputy Kenny's questions about staffing problems and personnel difficulties in Cavan. I do not need to go back over that because I have outlined the action that is to take place. The Deputy referred in two of his questions to the surgery department of Cavan General Hospital. Following the introduction of the clinical indemnity scheme in July 2002, all health care organisations are required to collect information on incidents and report them to the clinical indemnity insurance organisation. Of the 750 incidents reported in 2003 in respect of Cavan-Monaghan hospital group, the health board's risk adviser recommended that the views of a consultant be obtained in 15 of those cases which were treated in the surgery department of Cavan General Hospital. The board's medical adviser was requested to carry out a review of those incidents on 4 March.

Deputy Kenny has referred to the report published by the North Eastern Health Board. The board published the medical adviser's report, which contained a number of recommendations in the area of surgical services in the hospital. The Minister is meeting the chief executive officer of the board today to discuss the report's findings and the board's response to its recommendations. As I stated in the House he would, the Minister also recently met the medical board of Cavan General Hospital about a number of service issues with the hospital. The medical board has a range of proposals in this regard and these are the subject of discussion with the North Eastern Health Board.

On the question of funding and waiting lists, the Government has continually increased the funding in the Department of Health and Children. The figures are well known. More than €10 billion was granted for this year which is an increase of 10%. Based on the projected figures, hospital activity has risen to almost an estimated one million in-patients, an increase of almost 200,000. As regards the national treatment fund, 10,000 patients have been treated over the past two years. There has been a 42% reduction in the number of adults waiting for more than twelve months for in-patient treatment, based on the latest figures available for the period September 2002 to September 2003. There has been a 39% reduction in the number of children waiting for more than six months in the same period. Waiting times have been halved for adults and children from one year to six months.

Under the health strategy framework for the next seven to ten years, 75% of the actions have commenced after year one. On bed capacity, primary care, staffing, cancer and disabilities, physical and sensory disability and mental health, I can show the House figures that have dramatically increased. Rather than berate me about these issues, Deputy Kenny should say we have done an enormous amount in a relatively short period.

People waiting for orthodontic treatment and those whose community home help hours have been cut will be shocked by the Taoiseach's admission. He did not answer the charge made against him. On 7 May 2002, the Taoiseach stated, "We will permanently end waiting lists." With less than 60 days to go, the lists have increased by 2,000. That is the Taoiseach's kind of Government and that is why the people do not believe him any more. He made other promises. He said he would issue 200,000 extra medical cards; he has withdrawn 45,000 since. He promised 3,000 additional beds and he has closed 200 beds in Dublin. He promised enhanced GP services in a range of multi-disciplinary paramedical services. Does the Taoiseach not understand that the people do not believe him?

Will the Taoiseach answer the questions? Does he remember — his memory is selective these days — making a promise to permanently end waiting lists? He stated last weekend that there would be full medical care in all hospitals on a 24-hour basis. Does that mean full accident and emergency cover or does it mean just a doctor and a nurse at the end of a telephone? Will the Taoiseach answer those questions clearly so that at least in this forum there can be some semblance of credibility on the words that come out of his mouth?

I stated last week very clearly what the Minister for Health and Children had stated the previous week on the matter of medical cover in hospitals.

The Taoiseach did not state it clearly.

He did not answer the question.

I also stated when I was asked the question whether this was accident and emergency cover, that many of the hospitals in question did not have A and E services so an A and E service would not be opened. I said 24-hour medical cover.

What does that mean?

Allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

We have seen some of the biggest reductions in the waiting lists here that have been seen in the past 30 years-——

The Taoiseach just will not answer the question.

There has been a 42% reduction in the number of adults waiting for more than twelve months for in-patient treatment——

The Taoiseach should answer the question.

Allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

——and a 39% reduction in the number of children. I know the Deputies do not want to see this enormous——


——increase. In recent years we have put in proper resources into cancer treatment. There has been an increase in the number of consultants. We are already three years ahead of target. On bed capacity, more beds have been made available. There is a significant capital programme in Galway, Cork and Tullamore and in James Connolly Memorial Hospital in Blanchardstown.

It is not cover, it is a cover-up.

What does medical cover mean?

You are not the leader of Fine Gael.

Still sick.

Two years waiting.

There is new infrastructure, new hospitals, additional staff and consultants and still the Opposition run around trying to find an area where it is not perfect. We have improved it dramatically.

Debate adjourned.