In their pre-election promises the Taoiseach and Minister for Health and Children said no health cuts would be made and that more than 4,000 health workers would be recruited in the post-election period. The recent health cuts have completely undermined any credibility the new Government might have had. We cannot believe a word it says. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Devins, promised two weeks ago that there would be no cutbacks at Sligo General Hospital. We learn now that he is uncomfortable about the cutbacks which have been made. It is two weeks since he toldThe Sligo Champion that patient care should not be hit in any way by cutbacks being implemented at Sligo General Hospital. The promises of the Minister and Minister of State that such measures would not reduce services were plainly inaccurate. Today’s developments on critical services and the roll out of BreastCheck and radiotherapy are very disappointing. Delivery will depend on the capacity of services in Belfast to take patients from the region. It is appalling.
Sligo General Hospital has lost four consultants and 30 nurses. The scale of the cuts at the hospital exceeds anything proposed for any other location nationally. The cutting of the consultant posts will be especially disappointing for women in the north west with the loss of a consultant obstetrician gynaecologist and a general surgeon with special expertise in breast surgery. Other specialties affected are orthopaedics and ear, nose and throat services, which are also critical. These extensive cutbacks in front-line staff will adversely affect the quality and availability of patient care. The IMO president, Dr. Paula Gilvarry, has said the decision will cause outpatient appointments and clinics to be cancelled and result in longer waiting lists. The IMO president would not make such a statement without specific knowledge. The chairman of Sligo General Hospital medical board, Dr. Niall Considine, has said that breast operations will be reduced by 50%, while there are over 360 placed patients on the waiting list for surgery for more than 12 months. These major cutbacks will result in longer waiting times for outpatient appointments and the cancellation of clinics leading to greater hardship and stress for patients. There is no arguing with these facts.
I am very disappointed that the Minister, Deputy Harney, is not present to deal directly with this matter. She is trying to defend cuts which are doing grievous damage to patient care. It is the responsibility of the Minister for Health and Children to ensure the standards of care and access to the service are maintained. I call on the Minister, Deputy Harney, to urgently address these serious concerns.
The budget is the responsibility of the HSE but the Minister has ultimate responsibility. Look at the scale of the cutbacks. The staff in the north-west region cover a huge area. It is most disappointing to hear the Minister, as late as today, briefly allude to this and offer a feeble excuse. There is huge unrest about this issue, as my colleague Deputy Scanlan will agree. No spin will alter the fact of the cutbacks in this area, while up to €13 billion is being spent on health care services.
Before the general election we were promised the roll out of BreastCheck in 2007, in addition to radiotherapy and other oncology services. However, the IMO president, Dr. Paula Gilvarry, has said this decision will cause outpatient appointments and clinics to be cancelled, as well as longer waiting lists for patients. The most eminent consultant in Sligo, Dr. Niall Considine, in a letter toThe Irish Times said that breast operations will be reduced by 50%. The Minister, Deputy Harney, should reply not just to me but also to Dr. Considine, who knows his business.
This relates to the oncology service. People are dying in the north west because they do not have services. They feel the cutbacks and the lack of BreastCheck and radiotherapy services. A doctor who provides breast surgery is being removed. Dr. Niall Considine has stated as much. I demand quality health care. With no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor, I am disappointed that the Minister, Deputy Harney, who knew this issue was to be discussed and mentioned it earlier, would not wait to reply to the debate. It clearly indicates what she thinks of the roll out of services in Sligo General Hospital.