That Seanad Éireann:
condemning the disgraceful closure of Abbeyleix Community Hospital and Shaen Hospital in County Laois;
noting that the Minister for Health has not informed either House of the Oireachtas of whether it is his policy to close other community hospitals and public beds for the elderly;
recognising that the planned closure of 842 beds leaked to the press is a disgraceful way to treat patients in these hospitals;
noting that such leaks are causing anxiety and confusion to patients and their families in the locations affected, as they face being cast out of the only environment they know as their home at this stage of their lives;
recognising that there is no justification for the closure of these community hospitals for the elderly and there will be no benefit for the HSE as staff would have to be redeployed under the Croke Park Agreement to other HSE facilities in the region;
condemn the Minister's actions for his shameful handling of the closure of community hospitals which caused untold anxiety and distress to patients in these facilities;
call on the Minister to reverse his decision to close Abbeyleix and Shaen Hospitals;
call on the Minister to confirm whether he intends to close any or all of St. Brigid's in Laois, St. Brigid's in Crookslings, Lisdarn in Cavan, St. Joseph's in Louth, Cottage Home in Louth, St. Francis in Galway City, Lifford in Donegal, St. Francis in Fermoy, or Cluan Arran in Tipperary;
call on the Minister to confirm the other facilities that face cuts in the number of beds or other possible closure; and
condemn the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government for advancing the closure of public beds for the elderly and community hospitals given it is privatisation by the back door.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to the House. It is a shame that we must deal with issues such as this. No one has articulated the seriousness of the matter in recent weeks more than my good friend, Senator Whelan. Others may have articulated it, but only in the privacy of parliamentary party rooms. Throughout the Houses, I do not doubt that Labour Party and Fine Gael backbenchers share my view. The only question is what, if anything, will be done about it. I fully understand that the responsibility of the Government is to make difficult decisions and the people understand that austerity is necessary at this time, but which of us or our families, people who are lucky enough to have jobs, would not gladly pay a little bit more for the care and relative security of the elderly and the young, the most vulnerable in society?
Fianna Fáil made difficult, unpopular decisions. When on the opposite side of the House, I was no less robust in condemning any wrong that was done. As Senator Whelan correctly pointed out, wrong is being done in this instance. The elderly, the young and the vulnerable are the most important people in our society. Fianna Fáil knows all about the medical card debacle. It was not my proudest day wearing the Fianna Fáil jersey. On that day, the elderly stood outside and told us it should not happen. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that they were right.
The people focusing on this action are not able to congregate outside Leinster House or in the church on Clarendon Street to have a go at the Minister of the day. They depend on us, the Senators opposite, the Minister of State and the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, to say that this action is wrong. There is a crisis in the health service and a financial problem, but let us use our minds and efforts to find resources elsewhere. Could other budgets be shaved back, other plans be tempered or other ambitions postponed for a little while in the interests of the care of our elderly?
We have read about many people in recent days. For example, Ms Áine Campbell's 70 year old father is unable to speak following several strokes. According to media reports by Ms Marese McDonagh, he engages enthusiastically with his daughter when she comes to visit. At the mention of, in the Minister's words, the rationalisation of community hospitals, he can only close his eyes in disgust. People are crying themselves to sleep in the constituency of Deputy Fleming, Senator Whelan and others from County Laois. They do not deserve to be singled out. I look at the amendment from the Government and I see that decisions have been taken on Abbeyleix, Shaen and Brittas, which have gone, but no further decisions have been taken. Will it take the protestations of Senator Whelan and others to save hospitals throughout the country? Why should they be scapegoated? Another inexcusable problem with the Government on autopilot is the communication by use of leaks in theIrish Daily Mail. I read that various hospitals are set to close and lose beds. St John’s Hospital in Sligo and St. Patrick’s Hospital in Carrick-on-Shannon in the constituency from which Senator Henry and I come are set to experience bed closures. One wonders what happened to the manifesto which claimed that the devil and all would be delivered for the people. Like so many plans, another U-turn has been done on this. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, told us he would take control of the health service, fire the HSE board and manage it. It looks like headless chickens running around, closing hospitals, leaking details and floating ideas. They thought they would see what people thought if they closed Laois because there are not too many people there, Senator Whelan would not bother and Deputy Fleming was in Fianna Fáil. They just do not care. When Fianna Fáil did wrong, it was told by the elderly people in Kildare Street and at Clarendon Street church that it was getting it wrong. However, the sick, the elderly and the incapacitated are unable to tell the Government that it is getting it wrong. Just because the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, thinks the low-hanging fruit has already been picked, does not mean he should focus on the most vulnerable in society.
This year we will borrow €750 million to live up to our responsibility in foreign aid. That is honourable and we all support policy that invests in our international responsibilities. Various interest groups, such as Age Action Ireland, have pointed out that moving elderly people over the age of 80 and taking them away from their families means that hundreds of people are going to die, to quote "Prime Time" yesterday evening. Is it not possible to postpone €50 million to €100 million of the €750 million in foreign aid for a year or two to assist with the survival of elderly people in this country? It is not a matter of being against foreign aid investment. Of course, we are in favour of it but I wonder how much it will cost. The amendment refers to a cost of up to €1 billion, which is a classic case of wording backing up the argument. We are told that it will cost €600 million to bring the beds up to the standard demanded by HIQA. The Government is giving away €750 million in foreign aid this year. Is it possible to postpone this for a number of years, even though it is honourable? This is my point of view and I am giving an example of other areas that could be examined. I am not saying that they must or they should but there are a number of voted expenditure areas and if €600 million must be found to prevent elderly people in this country dying, that is my responsibility and that is what my tax euro are for. Of course I want to help the people in receipt of foreign aid, more so than we do at present, but if people here are dying then we have a responsibility to them first and foremost. The responsibility of Government and of our very existence in these Houses is to the people. As we all pander to our European masters, there is a better way to care for the elderly than to put them out of what is effectively their home.
How many more will there be? The communications strategy on this matter is an unmitigated disaster. A list was leaked to theIrish Daily Mail on 24 November. In fairness to Senator John Whelan, he outlined the situation. I understand because I know what it is like when difficult decisions are taken but this is the worst I have seen. This motion should highlight the fact that this measure should be reversed pending a national strategy. What is the health plan? The pre-election commitment was for Senator O’Keeffe’s centre of excellence. We also had promises about care for the elderly and increased expenditure year on year. On the previous day, the Minister for Health said he was taking control of the health service and was responsible, but in recent days he has referred to the HSE, HIQA and the moratorium. The moratorium is too blunt an instrument, as is closing hospitals. The amendment to the motion suggests that the average cost is in the region of €1,250 per bed, but according to the Comptroller and Auditor General, the sum is between €900 and €1,200. If costs are the issue, this is what should be dealt with. If my business is losing money because costs are too high, I can bring down costs or I can close the door. The Government has opted to close the door but I suggest they put a little thought into it and bring down costs. Other areas of expenditure may need to be shaved back to help the people of Laois, Shaen, Abbeyleix and Brittas. The Government should not make decent, hard-working public representatives like Senator John Whelan the scapegoat to save all the other hospitals. That is what the Government is doing.