Contribution to the Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill 2012: Second Stage

January 31st, 2013 - Pat Breen

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill 2012. Like other Deputies, I questioned previous health Ministers on the management and delivery of health services in my constituency. Of course, I got the usual reply that the Minister was not responsible but the Health Service Executive, HSE, under the Health Act 2004. That Act imposed structures on the HSE which have not worked, while allowing previous health Ministers to hide behind it. There was no integration, no clarity, no direct accountability between the HSE and the Minister. It important that the HSE is accountable to the Minister, as well as the Dáil.

The Bill is an interim measure. In the long term the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, is proposing to abolish the HSE in favour of a new system of directorates headed by a director general. This is a brave step by the Minister and will bring accountability and transparency to the sector.

As part of the reform of the health service, the reconfiguration of acute hospitals in the mid-west region is under way. The role of Ennis General Hospital has changed substantially. We are fortunate that a good manager took over in 2010 and under his stewardship, with a dedicated and loyal staff, the hospital has been given a new lease of life. Up to €2.5 million has been invested in the endoscopy unit. The hospital won first place in the national health care innovation awards for the provision of radiology services last year, boosting confidence in the hospital and eliminating X-ray waiting lists. A new €15 million state-of-the-art 50 bed wing has opened and it is the first health facility in the country that is SARI – strategy for the control of antimicrobial resistance in Ireland – compliant. I look forward to the Minister officially opening the facility in the near future. As the hospital manager has moved on, I hope the range of services he introduced will be maintained. The framework for the development of smaller hospitals will be published shortly. It will help to define the role of hospitals, including Ennis General Hospital, in the mid-west regional hospital group. I understand it will focus on enhancing and growing services rather than downgrading them.

In the past the Opposition sought to question the role of the local emergency centre at Ennis General Hospital, which is glaring hypocrisy in view of the track record of the previous Government. I remind the Opposition that the outgoing manager of the hospital said 90% of accident and emergency cases could still report to Ennis General Hospital, even when the new system was put in place. Every patient wants and deserves the best treatment and he or she must have confidence that if he or she needs to access this service, it will be available.

Since taking office the Minister has worked hard to improve patient outcomes. He has set up the special delivery unit, made significant progress in reducing waiting times and set clear targets which the HSE has to meet.

This year the HSE service plan aims to have 95% of all attendees at accident and emergency departments discharged or admitted within six hours of registration.

According to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, there are 22 patients on trolleys at the accident and emergency department at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick. As the number of attendees at accident and emergency departments fluctuates at this time of year owing to flu etc., the current delay at the hospital is causing upset for patients, their families, as well as the nursing and medical staff. I hope the matter can be resolved as soon as possible.

Ireland has the 36th highest suicide rate in the world. Suicide prevention is an issue which the Government has prioritised. Today new guidelines were issued for schools in an effort to stem the problem. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is committed to transforming mental health services in line with A Vision for Change and many positive steps will be taken to improve the quality of mental health care. I concur with other Members that unused moneys allocated for health services should be diverted to plug the hole in mental health services.

The Minister is driving reform which is necessary and will lead to better patient outcomes. I compliment him on his work in this regard.