As we all know, the number of people on waiting lists for essential hospital procedures is a scandal. That has been spoken about a lot today. We also know that thousands of people are being forced to spend months in pain while they wait for an operation or to see a specialist. It saddens me deeply that we are one of the richest countries in the world and we cannot, or will not, take care of our most vulnerable, weak and sick.
The HSE states that even though the overall length of time people spend on waiting lists has improved in recent years, the total numbers waiting and the numbers waiting in excess of four months for outpatient assessment and inpatient treatment are at an unacceptable and unsustainable high. The HSE is working to ensure that no one is waiting more than 18 months for an outpatient or inpatient appointment. These figures give an idea of the problem but the personal statements of people in agony while waiting for operations are the most telling criticism of our health service. Families are forced to look at their loved ones suffering while the better-off in society, with private health care, can access services.
A friend of mine, whose wife is waiting for an operation, told me of the effect that it is having on him and how devastated he, his children and especially his wife are. She has become suicidal, not because she was depressed but because she could not bear the constant suffering and pain. Another friend of mine, and these are all people who are talking to me at the moment, wants to make a case for an opt-out clause to be introduced for organ donations. A Cork mother of two, Linda O'Mahoney, called for the Government to introduce the opt-out scheme which would mean that everyone would automatically be an organ donor unless they specify otherwise. The 40-year-old said she had to be at death’s door before she got a liver transplant and is calling for immediate action to try to tackle transplant waiting times. I ask the Minister if he would consider, or if he has a plan to introduce, this scheme.
The justified industrial action by nurses, midwives and hospital staff scheduled will have a major impact on waiting times. The grievances of these front line workers must be addressed as a matter of urgency. Senator Reilly mentioned the great work that our nurses do. The state of our health care system is summed up by the people who know best, the nurses, who do an incredible amount of work. We have heard comments from them like:
All my life I wanted to be a nurse. I love looking after people but I can’t do that as a nurse in Ireland. I didn’t realise that my dream would lead me to being a slave.
Another post that went viral and appeared in international media stated:
We are so unbelievably undervalued and we find it difficult to strike in numbers because people may actually die if we do strike as we are so short of staff. Who is going to look after the dying patients if we strike?
The president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, IHCA, Dr. Tom Ryan, said that the public had become immune to the acute crisis in the health care system, the thousands of extra hospital beds needed, the waiting lists of over a year and a serious shortage of nurses and doctors. These indictments of our health care system have to be taken seriously and acted upon. If nurses and other hospital staff are prepared to go on strike then we know the situation is critical. INMO industrial relations officer, Mary Rose Carroll, said that the conditions nurses are working in mean that they fear for their patients' safety.
On the comment that Senator Ó Clochartaigh made about addiction services, and I know the Minister of State is very aware of it, I will come back to the point that there are 1,500 people in hospitals every day who have an alcohol problem. We could easily lower that if we just looked at the issue of alcohol. That is what we are trying to do in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015. It really is an important issue.
Questions need to be asked as to why the number of senior managers in the HSE has grown by almost 40% in the past four years since 2012 while hospital wards are often understaffed due to the severe curbs on the recruitment of nurses and doctors. It is scandalous that we have an increase of 40% in senior managers in the HSE. There is something not right with that picture.