This conversation is really a distraction. If things had gone the way they should have, we would be in a different situation, addressing the challenges of the public health services in this country, which should get and need to get priority at this time. Like other members, I believe there is still time to rescue the issue, and every effort should be made by everybody involved to ensure that will be done as a matter of urgency. I ask Dr. Holohan and the Secretary General to re-examine the matter with a view to ascertaining whether it might be possible at this stage to salvage something in the interests of the country, the public health system and the reputations of all involved.
Long ago, I suggested that having learned from the experiences earlier during the Covid pandemic, we should apply them in general to the delivery of the public health services. That was a natural thing to happen, and it should and must happen. We must draw from the success of those experiences. I fully appreciate the great effort made by Dr. Holohan, NPHET, the team in the Department of Health and the team throughout the country. It was a very significant effort 24-7, on call all the time for a protracted period, in a way that was exemplary. We have to record our appreciation of what has been done so far, which can be done again. If we go off in different directions, however, as we are doing now, distracting ourselves and taking away the focus of attention from the issues that need to be dealt with, that would be sad and a failure.
I have no reason to be acrimonious towards anybody. There is no need for it and no gain for anybody in it. It does not work. Members of the committee, Ministers or whoever being at loggerheads or cross-purposes with one another or with Departments serves no public purpose. I hope lessons will be learned and I hope Mr. Watt has learned some lessons as well. The lesson I see, as a former Minister of State like other members of the committee, is that there can be no proceeding anywhere without the approval and the updating of the Minister concerned. It cannot be done. It always ends in tears. The necessity, therefore, is that wherever issues such as this one arise in the future, lessons that have been learned will be put into practice and, as a result, we can proceed knowing that whatever we do will be done in the national interest and the best interests of anybody. It is important to recognise that, not least as we proceed to the challenges I referred to earlier.
In that context, there are now unprecedented waiting lists in every hospital in the country and in every department therein. It has been shown to the committee in the past that some people, in particular those who have been well placed in the services, can achieve great results. It is a question of bringing them all together and putting them all in the same place at the same time in order that the sum total of what they can contribute individually will be seen to be greater, as I have no doubt will be the case.
In January of this year, I requested an urgent reappraisal of what was required, as our guests might recall. At the time, Mr. Watt indicated he would tell us in November or December what might be possible, but it is too late for that. That is way off and I think that, on reflection, he will have to admit that himself. The necessity was to look at the issues that were now pertinent to the realm of the Department, and if we do not do that, we will be seen to have been negligent. That is what future generations will say. They will know full well that we have the capacity to take the steps that are expected of us, by whom I mean everybody involved at every level, from the public service, the political service and all that goes with that.
As has been mentioned, lessons have been learned, but we have heard that phrase many times previously. Why would it not have been possible to take account of the advice of committee members, for example? We all had the feeling that we needed to divert our attention to the delivery of health services and put in place the necessary foundations for doing that straight away, not next November, December or the year after next but now? It would be a simple step to take at this level and that needs to be dealt with.
I am sorry the reputations of many great contributors in the course of the pandemic have suffered, given it has been presented as though the system was doing something wrong.
The system was not doing something wrong. It was attempting to keep on board all of the people who had a major contribution to make and continue to do so.
Reference was made to Dr. Holohan perhaps being able to look at this again. I know that is difficult and he has made his own decisions, as he is entitled to do. Dr. Holohan has also shown that he is committed to the public health system. More than ever before, the public health service badly needs the expertise, leadership, concern, devotion and dedication of people who have been on the front line, or any line, of the pandemic. I ask Dr. Holohan to consider this in the context of what might follow, so as not to lose all the information gleaned and all the expertise that is ready to be tapped for the public or for research insofar as the public health system is concerned. That would be a disaster. I do not want to continue incessantly as most of what I was going to say has already been said. I wanted to emphasise that particular point.
With regard to senior officials and proceeding, we need senior officials with flair and innovative tendencies in the public service and I compliment those among them who have those qualities. It is vitally important, however, that anything done is conveyed at an earlier stage to the political heads of Departments. These are the persons who are supposed to know, and when they go on the public stage to discuss a particular subject they are entitled to have all of the information at their fingertips. They need to be in control. If they do not get information from the system in which they serve, they are no longer in control and they are boxing in the dark. That does not work. I hope that lesson has been learned and that with any such attempt in future not only will a letter or email be sent to the relevant people to apprise them of the particular situation, but that a copy will also be sent to whomever else might be involved.
I appeal to all concerned to think again about the position we are in now and the urgency of the matters that are ahead for the Department of Health and the health services. We talk about this all the time. It is not something we should refer to only for discussion. We need action and the action can only come when the expertise, dedication and involvement of those dealing with the pandemic is refocused on the general delivery of health services, in particular the public health services. That is all I want to say.