This week at Cabinet the Government agreed to proceed with legislation that will exempt local sports clubs from paying commercial rates on the non-profit parts of their building.
I warmly welcome today’s passage of the Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill 2014 by the Oireachtas which will provide GP care without fees for children under six.
This is a truly historic piece of legislation and I am pleased to have played a role in making this happen. I look forward to children benefitting from this scheme in the Autumn.
As a result of a decision by Cabinet this week, GP services without fees will be extended to all children aged five and under by mid 2014. The government approved the General Scheme of the required legislation at its meeting on Tuesday of this week.
Speech by Alex White TD, Labour Party Conference 2013,
Killarney, Saturday Nov. 20th 2013
Thanks very much Chair,
It is my great honour to introduce this morning’s session on health. As the Chairperson has said, the context is our party’s focus on fairness, equality and social justice.
Of course it is ludicrous to suggest that the Minister should be held responsible for not opening particular letters or envelopes in Tallaght hospital. It is nonsensical to suggest it and to the extent that it has been suggested I do not agree with it. However, there is a real issue for political representatives.
Because of all the changes that have occurred and the arrival of the HSE on the scene – many on the Government side have made this point – politicians and political representatives generally have been deprived of an opportunity to raise any serious issue or have serious debate, such as that which has been called for in the Seanad or in the Dáil. The Dáil is a Chamber to which the Government is accountable and responsible under the Constitution although it is not as directly responsible to this Chamber. However not even Deputies can get answers on these issues because Ministers habitually refuse to answer them, often because they are a matter for the HSE. However, when one approaches the HSE there is no serious procedure, basis or opportunity for public representatives to raise these issues and have them debated.
I do not blame people for mistakenly thinking that every issue must be laid directly at the feet of the Minister for Health and Children because the system has been changed in such a way as to render it impossible to get any answers other than calling for the Minister to come to the House. If the Leader of the Seanad has an alternative to propose to us on how we can have a serious and adult debate on this issue I would like to hear it. Otherwise, there is no alternative to people coming here day after day to call for the Minister for Health and Children to answer questions on issues which, in a normal democracy, she would not have to address in the same detail.
It was a complete spectacle to have the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, state that something should be done about Tallaght Hospital. Is there a democracy in the world in which a Minister of State would state that something should be done? We are told that health spending is one of the biggest areas of public expenditure over which the Government and the Oireachtas presides. It beggars belief that there is not a serious basis upon which issues such as what went wrong at Tallaght hospital can be properly debated in the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I would to congratulate the Children’s Rights Alliance on their Report Card 2010, published today.
The report shines a light on how the Fianna Fail/ Green Government is meeting their commitments to children, or to be more precise, how they are failing to meet them.
In three of the four headings: health; material wellbeing; and safeguarding children, the government’s performance this year is worse than last year. Only under the heading of education has there been any kind of improvement, and even that is a very modest one.
Safeguarding Children receives a D grade this year, compared to a C grade last year, while Health is downgraded from D- last year to E this year.
Perhaps of greatest concern is the Government’s performance with regard to Material Wellbeing. Their grade has gone from a mediocre C- last year to a shockingly poor E this year. Indeed under every sub-heading of this category; financial support; access to education; access to healthcare and access to housing; Government performance has deteriorated.
In other words, not only are children worse off financially compared to a year ago, they are also finding it more difficult to get access to vital services.
Each time the government rolls out its latest wave of cutbacks – from sacking hundreds of Special Needs Assistants, to slashing Child Benefit, to ending support for homework clubs in disadvantaged areas – they claim that they do so with a heavy heart, and that they have somehow managed to ‘protect the vulnerable’.
Today’s publication gives lie to that and would actually suggest that when it comes to wielding the axe, services for children are seen as very easy targets
The refusal of the HSE to co-operate with the investigation by the Ombudsman for Children into the handling of the Child Protection Audit strongly suggests that the culture of secrecy, procrastination and obfuscation is alive and well in the HSE.
Claims by the HSE that they have indeed provided Ms Logan with all the documentation she required to conduct this investigation simply do not stand up to scrutiny. Ms Logan has catalogued in detail the requests that she has made to the HSE for various files and documents, and it is manifestly clear that they have come up short.
The HSE’s insistence, based on legal concerns that are at best spurious, that communication between the two agencies be conducted through senior counsel, is simply bizarre. Ms Logan has given the HSE every opportunity to engage with the process, only to be rebuffed at every hand’s turn.
The HSE’s claim that the interests of ‘third parties’ have to be recognised and taken on board, needs clarification. To which third parties is the HSE referring? And why must the interests of these third parties take precedence over the statutory right of the Ombudsman for Children to have access to the relevant documents?
I welcome the intimation by the HSE that they will endeavour to communicate with the Ombudsman for Children today, but it really should not have come to this.
It seems that despite all that has happened in recent years the culture of transparency and accountability has still not taken hold in the HSE.
In conducting these investigations, the Ombudsman for Children is obliged by law to have regard to the best interests of the child and nothing, particularly not the HSE, should be allowed stand in her way.
The hospitals co-location project that was announced with much fanfare by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, and her colleagues in Government was buried by measures taken in the recent budget.
Now that this project, which involved the folly of relying on the property development sector to deal with the development of health care, is in tatters, like many of the Government’s policies, I am seeking a debate in the Seanad with the Minister on how we will fund our health care system and how we will end, once and for all, the disgrace of the two-tier health care system in which people’s means and incomes determine, if not the quality of health care, at least the speed at which they receive it?
In that context, I warmly welcome the publication this week by the Fine Gael Party of a policy programme for universal health insurance. It is an excellent contribution to the debate. The Labour Party has held the view for the best part of a decade and has published extensive policy documents to the effect that universal health insurance is clearly the way we should have proceeded when the matter was being addressed in recent years. It now manifestly is the way forward.
In terms of the standing of politicians, we have discussed on many occasions the bureaucratic monster that is the HSE, its inaccessibility and lack of democratic accountability. It has instituted a programme of public relations, the principle purpose of which is for it to contact “opinion formers”, ‘Celebrity Bainisteoirí’ and other mouthy individuals with whom it intends to discuss problems in the health services so it can get feedback. When was the last time Senators were contacted by the HSE to give feedback? When was Senator MacSharry asked about cancer services in the North West?
I heard a HSE communications expert talking about feedback this morning. People are telling us what is happening. An intensive care nurse told me last week that they cannot get the basic equipment to do their jobs and there is a shortage of staff.
We could not make this up.
This unit in the HSE is engaging in an extraordinary exercise where it contacts these celebrities to give them its spin but it completely lacks democratic accountability in the health service. I get e-mails from it every week, as do other people, but they are spin. I have a question for the HSE about this project: how will it improve health services in this State?