"That Dáil Éireann:
the ‘FairCare' health reform plan of the Minister for Health, James Reilly T.D., is in chaos as a result of health cuts and that as a result there is a spiralling crisis in health service delivery and accident and emergency (A&E) services across the country;
this crisis in our public health system is particularly manifest in the following areas:
Limerick: The closures in 2009 of 24 hour A&E departments in Nenagh, Ennis and St. John's hospitals have resulted in acute overcrowding in Limerick Regional Hospital and promises that additional resources would be made available have not materialised;
Loughlinstown: The plan to downgrade A&E in St. Colmcille's will inevitably put pressure on St. Vincent's Hospital which is already overcrowded and has had to go ‘off call' on a number of occasions over the last weeks;
Blanchardstown: The funding cut from €104 million in 2009 to €84 million in 2011 while there is an almost 10% increase in both the local population and the amount of patients treated during this period will inevitably affect patient safety. Twelve beds in Laurel Ward and 16 in the inpatient surgical day ward are set to close. A costing for running the A&E on a 12 hour basis has been performed. This is causing grave concern among residents in the hospital catchment area of 330,000;
Cork: Planned cutbacks to emergency services in Cork, which include closing Victoria South Infirmary A&E in April, Bantry minor injury assessment unit and unspecified dates for downgrading Mallow and Youghal, will put unacceptable pressure on Cork University Hospital and Mercy Hospital. The downgrading of Skibbereen Ambulance Service to an 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. service leaves west Cork with a wholly inadequate ambulance service: it is already a regular occurrence on weekend nights for no ambulances to be available. West Cork will be dependent on the ambulance in Clonakilty (which serves Rosscarbery to Kinsale) which can take 30 minutes on blue lights to reach Skibbereen and 90 minutes to Castletownbere;
Roscommon: The downgrading of A&E services in Roscommon represents an unacceptable cut in the level of health services for the people of Roscommon/Leitrim, putting additional pressure on Galway University Hospital where, on 20th October, 37 people were on trolleys;
South Tipperary: The recent announcement of the closure of the acute psychiatric unit in South Tipperary Hospital;
Letterkenny: The recruitment embargo means that staff have to be pulled in from other essential services to ensure that the hospital can function as an essential healthcare facility, adversely affecting community and other services; and
Tallaght: Tallaght Hospital has been historically underfunded. It is the busiest hospital in the State but ranks lowest of the top five hospitals in Dublin for funding. Its catchment area has been expanded from 350,000 to 500,000. The Health Service Executive has identified the need for step down beds and improved primary care as major contributors to increasing pressure on the acute hospitals; recently, however it announced the closing of the Crooksling nursing home in Brittas. Tallaght and Clondalkin have twice the average number of people per general practitioner in Ireland and three times the average in France and Germany;
the loss of almost 5,000 beds since 1980 and the more recent closure of more than 1,700 beds due to budget cuts and the recruitment embargo means there is a crisis of capacity in our public hospitals that is the immediate cause of the problems in A&Es. There are fewer than 3 acute hospital beds per 1,000 population in Ireland compared to an EU average of 4 beds per 1,000; and
since 2008 there are 6,000 fewer health-workers in the health service because of the recruitment embargo. These are overwhelmingly frontline staff including 1,000 nurses. The Chief Executive Officer of the Health Service Executive, Mr. Cathal Magee, admits there will be 7,000 more staff lost by 2014, a total loss of 13,000 or 11.7% (2008:111,000; 2011:105,000; 2014:98,000); and
lift the embargo on recruitment to the health service and to reverse the policy of closing hospital beds — reopening, as a matter of urgency, the 1,700 recently cut beds;
abandon the policy of closing or downgrading local and regional hospitals;
safeguard the 24 hour A&E of Blanchardstown Hospital and reverse the bed closures in the Laurel and day surgical wards;
reverse the downgrading of 24 hour A&E in Nenagh and Ennis to relieve pressure on Limerick Regional Hospital;
reverse the plan to downgrade the A&E in St. Colmcille's in Loughlinstown preventing further pressure on St. Vincent's Hospital;
reverse the downgrading of 24 hour A&E in Roscommon relieving pressure on Galway University Hospital;
reverse the announcement of the closure of the acute psychiatric unit of South Tipperary General Hospital;
abandon planned cutbacks or downgrading in emergency services in the Cork area specifically, at Victoria South Infirmary, Bantry, Mallow, Youghal or the downgrading of the Skibbereen ambulance service;
lift the embargo at Letterkenny Hospital to ensure that the hospital can function as an essential healthcare facility; and
impose no further cuts in the health budget 2012."
I am sharing time with Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett, Seamus Healy and Catherine Murphy.
This motion is in the name of the United Left Alliance Deputies and supported by other Deputies. Our motion lists in a comprehensive way the huge range of attacks on our hospital services particularly and on the health service generally throughout the country. Unfortunately, these attacks are intensifying which bears witness to the fact that instead of the change the Labour Party-Fine Gael coalition Government promised it has continued on where Fianna Fáil and the Green Party left off in terms of the savaging of our public services, in this case health, while at the same time continuing the disastrous policy of austerity begun by its predecessors.
It is incredible that our motion outlines crucial and devastating cuts to areas of our health service, and hospitals particularly, throughout the country and at the same time in two weeks' time €700 million will be paid to unsecured Anglo Irish Bank bondholders and, if this Government continues to have its way, €3.5 billion by the end of June. That is a devastating condemnation of this coalition of Fine Gael and the Labour Party.
I will concentrate particularly on the effects on Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown. Connolly Hospital has undergone debilitating cuts in recent years including a cut of €20 million in its budget, from €104 million to €84 million in the past two to three years alone, with consequences for reduction in beds and other difficulties. That comes down to more suffering for people on waiting lists and huge pressure on the frontline staff at Connolly Hospital who, by common consent and the testament of the people who use the service, are model workers in the health field.
In terms of these new cuts to Connolly hospital, incredibly, this week provision is made and is being implemented for the removal of 26 surgical beds from Connolly hospital. The surgical day ward is closing for two weeks and when it reopens only eight beds will continue to operate with another 12 beds being removed from the Laurel ward, making a total of 28.
These new cuts are being implemented without a murmur of opposition from two Ministers who represent the catchment area of Connolly Hospital, namely, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton. These two Ministers exhibit the most acute cynicism and hypocrisy in their attitude towards Blanchardstown hospital. On 5 October last year, the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, who was then Deputy Varadkar, was withering in his criticism of the most recently announced cuts at that stage which included the closure of 24 beds in Connolly hospital and a total of 118 across the northside hospitals in Dublin. The then Deputy Varadkar stated:
With 118 beds closed, hospitals on the northside will be a war-zone this winter. I have worked in the Emergency Departments in both Beaumont and Connolly Hospital and also on the wards during winter time. I know how busy it gets during the winter as the number of cases of pneumonia, COPD, heart failure and chest infections soar. With over 100 beds closed, we are facing into an A&E trolley crisis the like of which we have never seen.
That was the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, speaking as a simple Deputy 12 months ago but two weeks ago at a public meeting in regard to the new cuts at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, he baldly declared: "These new cuts will remain and there must be more cuts". What changed in the past 12 months? The only thing that changed is that the Minister assumed high office in Government and then cynically betrayed the people whom he claimed to stand for previously.
The Labour Party Minister, Deputy Burton, is equally cynical and hypocritical in her attitude to the new cuts in Connolly Hospital. Last year, the then Deputy Burton declared: "With proper investment, James Connolly Memorial Hospital will develop into a world class medical facility". She outlined among her five key priorities for Dublin West making Connolly Hospital a world class medical facility. Now the Minister, Deputy Burton, is silent on the effects of the €20 million cuts in the Connolly Hospital budget and the new cuts just announced. How can she make a world class medical facility and how can she stand for investment in that against the background of the massive cuts to the budget and these new cuts taking out dozens of surgical beds? Like the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, the Minister, Deputy Burton, has displayed the most acute cynicism and hypocrisy.
The people of the catchment area, however, are acutely concerned about these most recent cuts. The closure for a few weeks of the surgical day ward and the huge reduction in beds in the surgical day ward will mean dozens fewer procedures on a daily basis for those now on waiting lists to have their conditions ameliorated. We can be sure that for them it will mean cancellation and rescheduling well into next year, with all the stress and suffering that goes with that, yet two Ministers who represent the area and claim to be champions for Connolly Hospital, its patients and staff are not just silent but are condoning this new round of cuts.
The people of part of the catchment area in the constituency of Dublin West will have an opportunity in two days to make a judgment, through the ballot box, on this monumental cynicism and hypocrisy. I am sure they have already drawn the conclusion that sending another Fine Gael or Labour Party backbencher to this House following their vote next Thursday will simply intensify these draconian cuts and the Government's determination to continue them, whereas sending a representative of the campaigns that have genuinely fought and continue to fight for the hospital, particularly my colleague, Councillor Ruth Coppinger, would be a massive warning to this Government that these cuts will not be tolerated.
We want investment back in the hospital, the cuts reversed and the Government's disastrous policy of austerity changed. We need and will have, after Thursday, genuine champions for the hospital, its staff and patients, not fair weather friends for whom it is politically convenient at certain times to support them but who, on getting into positions of power, immediately forget the allegedly solemn promises they made to protect and defend our health service in this area.