Longer waiting lists due to health system failure

[Speaking in the Seanad during Order of Business]

The longer one is in a place such as this, the more grounds one has for cynicism and despondency. As somebody who has consistently for 20 years espoused fundamental reform of our health system, who is prepared to blame successive health Ministers from the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil, the Progressive Democrats and Fine Gael for the problems in our health system, who endorsed the candidacy for Minister for Health of Fine Gael and Labour Party candidates because we were promised reform of the health system, the waiting list figures reported in today’s Irish Examiner were way past depressing. Despite all the spin and claims that it had decreased, the number of people on waiting lists has increased from 309,000 to 360,000.

This is extraordinary. The number of people on nine-month waiting lists has gone up from 9,400 to 38,000. The mere fact that anyone in a civilised country would be on a nine-month waiting list for anything in the health service is just so profoundly abnormal that it says volumes about the normalisation of the abnormal to which we have become so numbed and accustomed in our society over the years. I am not singling out the current Minister, his predecessor or the current Government parties. This has been a systematic failure to reform the health system which has been going on for 20 years. The arithmetic is very simple; if a hospital is given an amount of money in January which must last it until midnight on New Year’s Eve, regardless of how good or bad is the hospital, how many patients choose to come to that hospital, how many patients choose to go some place else, how good are the doctors and nurses at attracting patients, how bad are they so that it encourages patients to go somewhere else. The amount of money in the hospital’s budget is set. The only way this system can respond to increases in demand is to cut back and to increase waiting lists.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business yet again today – “that the Minister for Health come to the House to clarify the extraordinary discrepancy in what we have been told over the past year by the same Administration on the actual numbers of patients on waiting lists and the numbers of patients on long-term waiting lists and to give the House an indication of the timeframe for health service reform or a commitment to such reform”.

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