Taoiseach, Last night’s edition of “RTE Investigates” revealed very deep suffering among men, women and children across the country because of the lack of proper funding and strategies to address waiting times in hospitals. We saw the human stories behind the figures and they were quite harrowing, particularly in the case of young children with scoliosis. The programme was a shameful and disgraceful illustration of how those children were failed. It is not today or yesterday that the issue pertaining to scoliosis patients was raised. Less than two years ago, we were given assurances that the issue would be resolved but that has not happened.
The people who volunteered to be interviewed showed great courage and were articulate and brave. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. We saw Dara from Kilkenny, a very bright child of seven who has scoliosis and who is exhausted on a daily basis because of the lack of action to address his needs. His mother, Clare, described the physical impact on his breathing, his ability to eat and so on. We saw how Megan Halvey Ryan found it impossible to attend school because of her scoliosis. We heard from Colette, John and Betty, all of whom are living in chronic pain because of the lack of access to vital surgery. It is difficult to comprehend how a person with a brain tumour could be waiting so long for surgery at Beaumont Hospital.
The National Treatment Purchase Fund was mothballed by the then Minister for Health, now Senator James Reilly, in 2012. It was not the solution to everything but while it was in operation, between 2002 and 2011, it dramatically reduced waiting times to six months or three months for the vast majority of people waiting for elective surgery. For some reason, however, it was mothballed and the figures began to deteriorate rapidly from 2012 onwards, particularly for those waiting beyond 12 months, of whom there were up to 12,000 in 2016. The figure in 2010 was a fraction of that. It is easy to track what is going on, as well as the lack of capacity and investment in our system. Many people resisted the re-establishment of the National Treatment Purchase Fund for the purpose of surgery. Even in our talks on a confidence-and-supply agreement, many Fine Gael Ministers did not want it brought back. To be fair, the current Minister for Health has said that he has €20 million for this year and €55 million for next year.
If anything comes out of the programme, I would ask that the Government make it a certainty, no matter what it takes, that no child with scoliosis has to wait beyond when it is medically important for that child to have the operation and that the curvatures do not get so extreme that it damages the child and causes more clinical complications. Parents want nothing less for their children. I cannot understand why private capacity was not sourced for those children or why might and main was not moved to ensure those children’s operations got done if they could not be done in Crumlin.
It happened before in the case of other disciplines when children underwent operations elsewhere if they could not be done in Crumlin. That at least should have happened with instances of scoliosis because many Deputies were bringing those cases to the attention of the Government over the past three to four years. We were told it would be sorted and it was not.