The need to build capacity in our hospitals has never been more urgent. Decades of bad government policy meant that our health service was at breaking point before we ever heard of Covid-19. Now we face the most serious health emergency of a lifetime. However, despite what the past 18 months have taught us, there is a real absence of urgency and planning from the Government. We need more beds and staff. We must dramatically improve diagnostic and theatre capacity. Incredibly, however, the Government has waited until the middle of November to come forward with its winter plan for the health service.
As far back as July, Sinn Féin and others said there was no time to wait. We called for preparations for winter to start at that point and urgently. We drafted a plan, sent it to the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and we were ignored. The Government's plan does not go far enough. In fact, it is built on the failures of the recent budget. Like the budget, the plan does not provide for one additional acute bed beyond what was already committed, nor has it provided the increase in intensive care unit, ICU, beds needed to meet this emergency. Front-line staff have been left outside hospitals protesting over unsafe staffing levels, but the plan does nothing to improve recruitment for the health service, where it can take up to six months to recruit a nurse and a year and more to recruit a consultant. How can that be justified? My colleague, Deputy Cullinane, has met with hospital managers in Cork, Sligo, Galway and beyond, all of whom have capital requests lodged for months. They are left to wait. This means that badly-needed 50- to 100-bed expansions are delayed indefinitely. The capital approvals process does not work. It is simply too slow.
Even if we had not been hit by a pandemic, the Government's plan falls far short of what is needed to meet the challenge faced by hospitals even in a normal year. This should have been a plan for real progress and ambition. Instead, it is a plan for our creaking hospitals to stand still. The price for this lack of planning and urgency will be paid by patients left to wait on trolleys in hospital corridors. By the way, there are 409 such patients on trolleys today. It will be paid by children with scoliosis and other conditions crying out for procedures that would change their lives. It will also be paid by front-line healthcare workers, who are denied the resources to do their jobs and are left to work in stress cauldron conditions.
Ní théann plean an gheimhridh sách fada. Is é anois an t-am chun an cúram sláinte a fháil i gceart. Tá níos mó leapacha agus níos mó foirne ag teastáil sa tseirbhís sláinte uainn. Teastaíonn práinn agus seachadadh uainn. We need a big step forward from Government and we need a real change. Does the Taoiseach accept the urgent need to significantly ramp up the number of beds in the system? Will he immediately address the bottlenecks in the capital approvals process so that those hospitals can press ahead with their expansions? Will he act on the call made by the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO to cut the extraordinary time taken to recruit healthcare staff?