Bad politics has destroyed the Ministry of Health

20 February 2019

Usually at this stage when we stand up in here we commence by saying we welcome the opportunity to speak etc. Well on this occasion I don’t. In fact I think this motion, which will ultimately be defeated is a distraction and not timed well and if anything lets the Government off the hook.

Having said that we in the Labour Party will be supporting it as we do not have confidence in this Government. This is not personal towards Simon Harris who as an individual I would consider to be very honourable and fundamentally decent. However, the situation we have in Irish politics at this moment in time is intolerable and the situation we have in Health is the greatest example of it. It’s intolerable for everyone; the Government, opposition and indeed the pubic.

Votes have little or no meaning anymore. The government loses multiple votes every week. They can’t guarantee that any form of legislation will be brought through, the main opposition party are abstaining or voting for legislation or motions that they don’t even believe in. It’s ridiculous and the quicker it ends the better.

To be fair, Minister Harris has had some successes in his Ministry and the legislation to repeal the 8th is an obvious example. That was a notable achievement and one that you should rightly always have beside your name. Furthermore the reform of the HSE structures are absolutely necessary and the way in which it was structured by multiple Ministries simply needed complete overhaul.

We at the initiation of this Dail it was decided to set up a special committee on the future of healthcare. We spent 11 months preparing the Slaintecare report. The Minister endorsed the report and he should have slipped into its slipstream straight away. In political terms it provided his Government with serious political cover. Sure, the report was endorsed by Government with platitudes but the funding has not been provided and the timelines are already out of date. The best ‘present’ a Health Minister in Ireland could ever be given wasn’t embraced and you’d have to ask why? Was it because he couldn’t get the Department of Health to cede some control to the new Slaintecare office; was it because DPER weren’t supportive or was it simply because this Government and you Minister didn’t believe in it in the first place or notionally thought sure this administration isn’t going to last so we will just play the game with it. I think a combination of all three.

Colleagues, I’m sick and tired of people referring to the Department of Health as Angola and that every Minister that goes in there just tries to live to see the day when they will get out. That should not be the case. Bad politics has destroyed the Ministry of Health. Bad politics of 30 years has turned the Department into the Ministry the Taoiseach of the day gives to his pupil who he needs to bring down a peg or two (the same applied to you Taoiseach with your predecessor!). This is not sustainable. The Department of Health should be a Ministry that all of us in here should strive for. It is the Ministry that can have the most dramatic impact on people’s lives and transform them.

I say this quite openly we really need to grow up as a political institution in how we manage the politics of Health and your tweet this morning Minister ‘bring it on’ wasn’t wise. It did nothing for you Minister. 30 years of continuous policy change and counter change and inconsistency in approach and political arse covering has not served the people well. And I say that acknowledging that there are so many good people at high levels in the HSE and the Department who work extremely hard.

However if it was possible, Minister Harris, the department of health and the HSE has turned into an even bigger disaster zone during the last three years. I could speak for hours on hundreds of issues. I could speak on;

  • The Massive Waiting lists across our hospitals
  • Overcrowding of 108,227 people forced to sit on trolleys in 2018
  • Lack of Children’s assessments for autism
  • Catastrophic delays in Children’s orthodontics treatment
  • The fact that we have no national drugs or medicines  strategy, no genetics strategy or a coherent policy on biosimilar and orphan drugs
  • The scandalous situation regarding provision of residential care for people with disabilities
  • The fact that our primary and community care strategies which if managed properly would help alleviate so much of our healthcare issues are simply totally underfunded and lacking geographical coverage.

I don’t have time so instead I intend to concentrate on just a few.

When it comes to the Cervical Check Scandal, the women and their families have been let down badly rushed decisions and commitments that simply could never be met. Scally’s initial report was a good report. However, the analysis on the labs in detail was not part of it. We were told last week that the new report from Scally was imminent, where is it Minister? Its delay is worrying me. This report was to have a full quality assurance analysis done on the contracts and the labs themselves. This is an absolutely central part of his work. Why is it delayed and will you publish the terms of reference given to Scally for this module of his work and tell me when and how those terms of reference were given to him. If this report is not published this week, I will know that there is something not right here.

The RCOG review which was to be done within months will unlikely now be done this year. Judge Meenan’s tribunal will not even be in place this year and needs legislation to go through this house which hasn’t even been drafted and we have the national scandal of Ruth Morrissey now gone through 15 days of proceedings in the high court despite the Taoiseach promising live on national television that this would never happen. And finally we have the huge backlog of 78,000 women waiting for their screening results and the fact that the system cannot prioritise more vulnerable cohorts of women over others for their results.

I’ve read hundreds of pages on the Children’s Hospital overrun. There was a significant group of people who were aware of this from some time back. It’s amazing how from August that many of them were more worried about how this would look and took PR advice rather than looking at how to arrest this overrun. The fact is that had to be buried in case of a general election. And Minister this isn’t over yet. DPER, that Department’s dysfunctionality and Circular 12/10 needs some more explaining. Are we really to believe that no one in that Department for over a year and a half ever asked one question about the largest capital project in the history of the state while one of their own was on the board at the same time? It is insulting to our intelligence.

Furthermore, you’re not been honest about what capital projects are being affected because of this cock up. The Taoiseach says no health projects are being affected. This is Trumpesque in how preposterous it is. There’s a minimum of €450m in cash to be found. Full stop. €100m this year and health projects will now be profiled which means that the public won’t benefit from them. The new 60 bed unit is the greatest example of this. Promised for next September it now won’t be in place until a year later despite repeated assurances from the Minister. At least the HSE Mid West had to decency to be honest with myself, Dr Harty and others. The politicisation of the health services is something that has to stop.

Minister you are decent person operating in bad government in a dysfunctional Dail. You’ll survive today but the political management of healthcare in this country needs a complete overhaul and it needs to happen soon.

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