Before I begin, I offer my condolences to the family and friends of Máire Mhac an tSaoi, Brendan Kennelly, Paddy Moloney and Tony MacMahon, all pillars of Irish arts and culture for so many years. Their deaths are a huge loss to us all, or as Theo Dorgan - the Taoiseach is aware he is an another Corkman - so eloquently put it, we are so much poorer for their absence and so much richer for their lives and for their work.
Today, the Cabinet has announced plans for further easing of restrictions. Covid is a horrendous virus and it is still with us. Thankfully, our population is largely vaccinated and this should allow us to proceed safely back to normal, but our healthcare capacity leaves us vulnerable. The crisis that we face now is a hospital bed and capacity crisis. Science has done its bit, medical professionals have done more than their bit, but the Government has failed to step up.
Here are the facts. Hospitals across the State are seeing record levels of overcrowding. Emergency departments are overflowing. The trolley count is rising. It is 416 today. Health waiting lists now stand at almost 1 million waiting for care, and almost a quarter of a million of those have been waiting for more than 18 months. Yet, in the face of this crisis, and increasing Covid numbers, the response of the Government in the budget was not one single additional inpatient bed. Not one. How are we to make it through the winter? How will burnt-out, front-line workers cope? How will the health service survive? The Government's approach means that for the remainder of this year and the entirety of next year, we will have no additional inpatient hospital beds. Is the Taoiseach seriously suggesting that no additional inpatient beds are needed until 2023?
The crisis is now, the overcrowding is happening now, the trolley count rises now and waiting lists are growing. Phil Ní Sheaghdha of the INMO has said of our hospitals: “They cannot cope today, they won't be coping tonight and they won't be coping tomorrow." This is a very stark warning and the Taoiseach needs to listen.
None of this has come out of the blue. The Taoiseach has to have known that this crisis would hit our hospitals hard in the wintertime. Indeed, last July, Sinn Féin and our colleague, Deputy David Cullinane, called for planning for the winter to start then. We urged the Government to prepare for what was to come. We called for an additional 600 inpatient beds and the recruitment of staff to service those beds and we repeated that call in our budget. The Taoiseach chooses to ignore those calls. He chooses not to properly invest in and resource our hospitals, and that leaves us exposed again. So, now, the chickens come home to roost, and it is patients, hospital staff and wider society who pay the heavy price. Tá ár n-ospidéil faoi bhrú ollmhór. Ní féidir leo déileáil leis an mbrú sin. Caithfidh an Rialtas infheistíocht a dhéanamh iontu anois.
I want the Taoiseach to change direction immediately. I am calling on him to do that. I want him to provide the investment needed, increase the number of beds in our hospitals, relieve the overcrowding and lift the intense, unbearable pressure on front-line staff, who are now beyond breaking point. This must be a central plank in the Government's response to the Covid-19 crisis.