Fianna Fáil Health Spokesperson Billy Kelleher has warned the Minister for Health, Dr. James Reilly, that the Government will be held responsible for a failure to provide the necessary contingency plans to protect frontline services following the retirement of thousands of health service employees.

Deputy Kelleher said “We have concerns about the planned provision of health care this year because, while the Minister for Health strongly argued that front line services will not be diminished by the impending retirement of a significant number of highly qualified professionals, we believe he will face difficulties after March 1st.

“In just four weeks times we will lose some of our best emergency department nurses and highly experienced midwives, as well as a spectrum of health professionals. People are genuinely worried about what kind of service will be provided in critical areas.

“A contingency plan should have been prepared at this stage given that some knowledge should now be available about the anticipated number of retirements from front line emergency services. I do not expect contingency plans for the entirety of the health services because I accept that elective and other medical treatments are not the immediate priority but surely plans are required in respect of maternity and emergency care. Such plans would not only allow us to debate future health provision but also put people’s minds at ease.

“Irrespective of whether we disagree with them or, like the Taoiseach, call their remarks outrageous, we cannot ignore the Consultants at the coalface of maternity services who have drawn attention to the potential risks resulting from the retirement of experienced staff. This puts the patients that will be using maternity services in jeopardy and it is unfair to those who are retiring to say they are putting lives at risk. A plan should be put in place to maintain these key services over the short to medium term while replacement staff are trained.

“It is important that we fully engage everybody involved, whether they are providing or receiving care. They have a significant role to play and their communities must not be led up the garden path in the same way as the people of Roscommon and Cork, in terms of St. Mary’s Orthopaedic Hospital.

“The health service is important, not only to those who work in it, but also the wider population who trust they will receive care when they need it. Over the course of the next four weeks the contingency plans must be activated to ensure services where people are leaving their jobs are maintained and where specialist professionals cannot be replaced through redeployment, swift recruitment is undertaken.

“The Government has given a commitment to recruit up to 3,000 new public service employees for critical areas as gaps in key areas are identified. I think the Minister should be detailing the contingency plans before the Dáil as a matter of urgency. It will go a long way to putting people’s minds at ease about service provision from the end of February.”