I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this important item for discussion tonight. The decision of the Minister, Deputy Harney, and the Government to continue to introduce further cutbacks amounting to €15 million at this time clearly puts at risk many of the front line services at University Hospital Galway which will result in the future loss of 60 beds, 126 front line staff and the closure of two surgical theatres. Surely this will hamper the hospital's ability to act or develop as a centre of excellence. Having already indicated potential cuts of €9 million, any further cuts will have a devastating impact on the provision of services at the hospital.
This is the biggest hospital in the west and it is on the verge of pulling out of the cancer treatment scheme. The hospital manager has made an urgent request in this respect because of the devastating impact these proposed cuts will have on the staff's ability to deliver cancer services in accordance with Government policy. She stated that these cuts will bring the hospital to its knees. When such a statement is issued by a hospital manager and neither the Minister nor the Government has shown any concern, the situation is serious.
How on earth can University Hospital Galway be a centre of excellence when its services are to be slashed so severely? The Government's cancer strategy is in disarray and cancer patients in Galway and across the west have been betrayed by the Government and the Minister. These cutbacks will have severe human consequences and will affect the survival of cancer patients across the west.
While I recognise that public spending must be curtailed, why was €17 million spent by the HSE on spin doctors and management consultants last year? There are 12 staff in the Department, four special advisers involving an expenditure of approximately €500,000 and five press officers involving an expenditure of €241,000. The 12 staff involve an expenditure of just under €1 million. Is it true, as per the Minister's constant rhetoric, that the patient is being put first when there is such expenditure on staff in her Department? Professor Drumm has an adviser who was paid €16,000 per month last year. Surely that shows that the patient is not being put first, unlike what the Minister claims.
Is spin more important to this Fianna Fáil-led Government than the lives of the people suffering from cancer and other serious illnesses? It cost €310,000 for the HSE to produce an information leaflet last year. This would provide an additional ten nursing staff in coal face services. Many of the 126 staff who will lose their jobs at University Hospital Galway are highly skilled with a level of knowledge and expertise necessary for the delivery of a first class service. Unfortunately, they are to be let go.
More than 1,000 women with concerns about breast cancer have had to wait more than three months to be seen at one of the eight specialist centres for diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer this year. This is a breach of the HSE's standards set by the Health Information and Quality Authority.
I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister less than a month ago asking if the HSE had made provision to recruit additional medical and nursing staff to cater for the extra workload in providing specialist cancer care at the hospital because of it becoming a designated centre of excellence. I was advised then that currently, services at University Hospital, Galway, were led by a team of surgeons with special interest in breast cancer, supported by a multidisciplinary team of health professionals, including radiologists, pathologists, nursing, laboratory and allied health professionals. These are the staff who will be hit by the introduction of these additional cutbacks of €15 million. Can the Minister, Deputy Harney, justify her demand for these cuts, if the jobs that were created only less than a month ago, as I was advised in that reply, are to be cut in this instance?
Another spin doctor, Ms Chris Kane, the regional co-ordinator of Western Hospital Group, was reported in a newspaper article as having said:
"Every hospital has to live within budget. In the case of GUH, this would mean less overtime, fewer locums and getting tough on absenteeism. We may be curtailing elective surgery, but vital front line and emergency services will be protected. The leaked internal letter quoted in . . . [the] newspapers was a discussion paper only. It was never agreed," said Ms Kane.
This comment is totally in denial of the previous statement of the hospital manager.
Will the Minister of State tell us tonight once and for all where the truth lies? Will there be a curtailment of services, particularly in cancer treatment, which is looming as a result of proposed cutbacks of €15 million?