Private Members Motion on Health

February 10th, 2014 - Pat Breen

Deputy Pat Breen: The biggest threat to the health service of our nation is the doom and gloom merchants on the Opposition benches who constantly question the Government’s record on health, despite their party’s dreadful record in that Department.

It is acknowledged that 2014 will be another challenging year for the health services, in particular, taking into account the savings of €619 million which must be achieved. In spite of the fact that the HSE must operate with fewer resources and fewer staff, it has managed to make real progress. For example, the mid-west hospital group in my region has seen a number of positive developments such as the commencement of the colorectal screening programme in Ennis and the neonatal screening programme in Limerick. A total of 7,472 additional in-patients and 11,094 outpatients were treated in the system. There is no denying the bottle-neck at the accident and emergency department at the Mid-West Regional Hospital at Limerick.

It is particularly acute at this time of the year when, traditionally, there is a peak in the number of people attending emergency departments. Hospitals in Northern Ireland and the UK have witnessed similar increases since Christmas. However, the situation in the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick could be alleviated by reducing the disruption and extending the hours of operation of the services in Ennis. The idea of developing local injuries clinics and medical assessment units was to reduce the need for patients to present themselves at emergency departments.

The medical assessment unit in Ennis was closed for three and a half days earlier this month when the senior doctor who was scheduled to be on duty in the unit was off sick and there was nobody there to replace him, forcing Clare patients to travel to Limerick and putting the service there under further pressure. I am glad the HSE intends to promote greater use of these units this year. However, in order to do so, it is important it puts a staffing procedure in place in Ennis which will minimise any further disruption. In addition, the medical assessment unit in Ennis should be open on a seven-day basis which would eliminate the need for some patients to travel to Limerick at weekends.

The problems in the accident and emergency department in Limerick are causing a lot of distress and upset for patients and their families and for the staff who are working there. The solution is to have a new emergency department up and running as soon as possible. I understand that while work is well underway on the new facility, it could be 2016 before it is operational. It should be fast tracked. I put that question to Ms Ann Doherty and I know they will do their very best to open the new emergency department, hopefully, at the end of 2015.

I constantly receive complaints from constituents about the length of time they have to wait at accident and emergency departments. Given that this facility will not be opened in the short term, I urge the HSE to open additional beds in the interim to alleviate the situation.
I have always argued that a separate paediatric emergency department should be available in Limerick hospital given that paediatric services are no longer provided in Ennis. It is not acceptable that sick children who are attending the accident and emergency department must wait in the same area with adults, in particular at night and at weekends when the accident and emergency department is overcrowded with people coming from pubs and nightclubs being treated. I understand the HSE plan for 2014 envisages the development of an interim paediatric accident and emergency department and I urge it to proceed with that facility as soon as possible.

The Minister has an ambitious plan for our health service. He does not have the luxury of resources which the previous Administration had but in spite of this, he has embarked on a programme of reform which is delivering real and tangible results and I commend him on his work. I urge the Opposition to end the charade of political opportunism and to work with the Government to deliver a better health service to our people.

Yesterday, I attended a briefing by HSE mid-west in Limerick. I understand the local service plan hopes to keep the same service this year. We were told by the director that it was an ambitious project. Given the limited resources and reduction in funding, it has put a plan in place which will try to keep the same service we had in 2013. I commend the local HSE in that regard.