“That Seanad Éireann: supports:
- the Patients Deserve Better campaign promoted by the Neurological Alliance of Ireland, an umbrella group of non-profit organisations which advocates for the rights of 800,000 citizens living with a neurological condition;
- neurological conditions which affect the brain and spine are the leading cause of disability throughout the world and include many common conditions such as stroke, migraine, epilepsy and acquired brain injury, in addition to certain rare and genetic conditions;
- almost 24,000 Irish people are on a waiting list for a neurology outpatient appointment;
- the number of people on the neurology outpatient waiting list is continuing to rise and the number waiting more than 18 months has increased by 30% in the last year;
- there is a shortfall of 100 neurology nurses in Ireland based on official national and international guidelines relative to population;
- people with long-term neurological conditions have limited access to the neurology nursing services that help them to manage their condition;
- this results in unnecessary hospital admissions and causes delays in necessary adjustments in medication;
- neurology nurses have a very significant impact on patients, increasing accessibility of healthcare and improving management of their condition;
and calls for:
- Government action to address the shortage of 100 neurology nurses which are vital to patient care and the reduction of neurology waiting lists which now stand at 24,000;
- the Minister for Health to publish his Department’s proposals to solve the shortfall in the provision of neurology nurse posts across Ireland’s ten hospital neurology centres; and
- the Minister for Health to prioritise adequate Budget 2023 funding to provide for 100 additional neurology nurses nationwide in line with the research and recommendations in the Patients Deserve Better campaign plan.”
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. This motion is about supporting the Patients Deserve Better campaign, promoted by the Neurological Alliance of Ireland, NAI, which is an umbrella group of the non-profit organisations that advocate for the rights of over 800,000 citizens living with neurological conditions. The motion seeks to recognise that this is an issue.
I wish to state at the outset that I have discussed the motion with my colleagues across the House in the last few days, and it has received a most favourable response. I do not think there is any division in this House about the absolute need to address the concerns in respect of the issue. Many organisations are tuning in to the debate today, including Aphasia Ireland, Ataxia Foundation Ireland, AFI, Enable Ireland, Epilepsy Ireland, PSPA Ireland, the Migraine Association of Ireland, MS Ireland, the Parkinson's Association of Ireland and Beaumont Hospital. There is a huge concern around the issue. We only want to give voice to what is a really successful campaign that has been run by the group. It has not been run by anybody else. I wish to acknowledge that the group has collaborated well with Senators and Deputies across the Houses. That is a measure of the success of the campaign.
The Patients Deserve Better campaign addresses Ireland's shortage of over 100 neurological nurses. There are currently 42 neurological nurses in Ireland. International recommendations state that Ireland should have 142 such nurses. The campaign decided to lobby on the issue, and it has lobbied very successfully. It is important to acknowledge the professionalism of the campaign. Looking at the campaign milestones, there have been six regional launches. As we are all aware, the campaign has sent 11,000 targeted emails to Oireachtas Members. The campaign has been involved in, and collaborated on, 140 parliamentary questions. It has engaged with 83 Deputies and Senators on the various issues around the campaign.
It is important to note the campaign's achievements to date. On 30 March 2022, the NAI received strong support for the campaign at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health. That was a particularly important milestone. I wish to acknowledge the work of the committee on the issue. On 30 March 2022, the HSE confirmed that plans are in place to provide 16 additional nurse specialist in neurology services.
That is progress. It is slow and it is not what they want but it is going in the right direction. I want to acknowledge that too. How can we support the call to tackle the nursing shortages? It is important that we continue to lobby and use our contacts within the Houses of the Oireachtas for their campaign. As I said, it is very significant. Neurology covers many issues and these nurses treat illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, severe cluster headaches, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and other rare diseases. It is critically important that we get this number of nurses up.
The recommendations of the neurological centre are based on the recommendation ratio. That is interesting. I will call out a few of the hospitals because I like to deal in facts. I thank the organisation for providing this information. Of course, we validate that information, which is critically important to bring some sort of integrity to our own debate in these Houses.
We know that in University Hospital Limerick, UHL, the recommendation is 11 nurses. Currently, there are three. There is a shortfall of eight of these specialist nurses. In Sligo University Hospital, very close to the Minister of State's constituency, the recommendation is seven nurses. The current number is three, which is a shortfall of four. In Cork University Hospital, CUH, the recommendation is 20 nurses; it only has four. There is a shocking shortfall of 16. We move on then to University Hospital Galway where the recommendation is 13 nurses; there are only four, leaving a shortage of nine nurses. Then, we come to what should be and is a hospital of excellence but clearly needs all the support it can get in this particular area, namely, Beaumont Hospital, which is very much a leading hospital in this area. The recommendation there is for 15 nurses. The current number is ten, which is a shortfall of five. The recommendation for St. Vincent's University Hospital in Dublin is 22 nurses. The current number is four, leaving a shortfall of 12. I will wrap up with St. James's Hospital where the recommendation is 14 nurses. The current number of nurses in this area is four, which is a shortfall of ten. The recommendation for the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital is 14 nurses; it has six in place with a shortfall of eight. Finally, the recommendation for Tallaght University Hospital is 20; it currently has in place 3.5 nurses, leaving a shortfall of 17.
I do not have to set it out much more plainly than that. The Minister of State knows the importance of this area as someone with responsibility in the Department of Health. What we are ultimately trying to achieve is support for the Patients Deserve Better organisation. It has done a great job as an advocacy group. Its representatives have connected with the practitioners. They have huge support from the consultants in these hospitals. It is important that we support them.
What is this motion calling for? That is what it is all about. We decided on a motion rather than some other piece of legislation because it is a particularly important issue. Most Deputies and Senators spoke about the large numbers of emails and the concerns of particular hospitals.
I wish to single out, in particular, Senator Maria Byrne from County Limerick and her party. She raised a number of issues and, indeed, she raised one yesterday in this House during Commencement matters, for which I was Acting Chairperson, on neurological support and nursing in her local university hospital. She spoke passionately about the need to address this but also about a load of shortcomings in that hospital, which is not part of our remit tonight. She made a very strong case, however, and a number of her own party Senators in this House and others across the floor did likewise.
Opposition is not just about opposing things. I think the Senator appreciates that, as do we all. We want to work constructively with the Government. We want to use our time tonight to highlight those shortcomings. As I said, we want to basically give voice to this enormous Patients Deserve Better campaign.
This motion calls for Government action to address the shortage of 100 neurological nurses, who are vital for patient care and the reduction of neurological waiting lists, which now stands at 24,000. It is a shockingly big number, which we need to address.
The motion also calls on the Minister for Health to publish the Department's proposals to solve the shortfall in the provision of neurological nursing posts across Ireland's ten hospitals of neurological specialty and centres of excellence. That is also a very focused ask. We also seek in this motion for the Minister for Health to provide adequate budget funding for 2023 to provide the 100 additional neurological nurses nationwide in line with the research and recommendations of the Patients Deserve Better campaign.
I will hand over to my colleague, Senator McDowell. However, I will wrap up by saying that this motion is motivated by collaboration. It is about support and a focus on the shortcomings. It is not about laying blame with anyone but about accepting and acknowledging that we are where we are today. We really want change. We are early enough out from the budget when, hopefully, Government and the lead Minister in the Department will be mindful of the ask. I am hopeful and very confident that we will have the support of all Members in this House tonight for this important motion.