Stephen Donnelly TD, Minister for Health Fianna Fáil Ard Fhéis

Published on: 04 November 2023



It’s an honour to be with you here today to discuss Fianna Fáil’s delivery in healthcare. Our goal is very clear – everyone should be able to get the healthcare they need when they need it. That might be care in your own home or community. It might be emergency care or hospital care. It might be preventative care like screening, vaccines, physical and mental health support.  


Whatever it is, it shouldn’t matter how much money someone earns or what age or gender they are. Healthcare for all is a cornerstone of a decent society. It’s one of the most important and unfinished projects of our Republic.  


We all know there is still a long road to travel to make this a reality. When we returned to government three years ago waiting lists had been getting longer for years. We had fewer hospital beds and hospital consultants than many other countries. Healthcare costs were too high for too many families. Some important health services simply didn’t exist.  


For the past three years we have been following a clear plan: Improve access for patients, reduce costs for patients and provide new services for patients. Today my report to the Ard Fheis is that, while acknowledging the road still to be travelled, Fianna Fáil in government is delivering – on behalf of patients and their families. That is part of the Fianna Fáil story when we return to the people in elections next year and in 2025.    


We’ve made progress like this before. Nineteen years ago Micheál Martin, then Minister for Health, delivered the most sweeping health reform in decades when he abolished the fragmented health service we had arrived at over many years. He was the Minister who defied vested interests at home and the power of the tobacco lobby abroad to deliver the smoking ban.  


So what of the past three years?  


Patient access 


Last year waiting lists fell for the first time since 2015. This year, more progress is being made. In fact, our extraordinary healthcare professionals have already taken 150,000 more people off the waiting lists than they had by this time last year.   


Individual hospitals are radically reducing their lists. Here’s just a sample of the progress hospitals have made in the past year reducing the number of patients waiting over nine months for a procedure: Children’s Health Ireland 24%, Mayo 78%, Tullamore 73%, Mullingar 74%, Kerry 100%.  Hospital by hospital, team by team, we are working to make sure people can get the care they need when they need it.    


Waiting lists in the Republic are now half what they are in Northern Ireland. The number of people per capita waiting more than a year in the Republic is now ten times lower than the number of people waiting in the North. Something Sinn Féin should have thought about before collapsing the Northern Assembly nearly seven years ago.   


Patient costs 

We’ve been radically cutting costs for patients. In 9 days we are finishing our rollout of free GP care to another half a million people. It will be the first time ever that over half the population has access to free GP care. Hard pressed families who haven’t been able to afford to see their doctor, or bring their child to the doctor, won’t have to worry about these costs again. Our ultimate goal is to extend this to everyone in Ireland.  


We’ve cut the amount families have to pay for medicines. We’ve just rolled out fully State-funded IVF for the first time. Couples dreaming of becoming parents, who couldn’t afford IVF, can now take that journey.  


In September we increased eligibility for free contraception to 30 years of age. This is a crucial step in women’s healthcare and GPs are talking with us about a very positive response around the country.  


Up until this year, people at their sickest, coming out of a public hospital, could be landed with a bill of up to €800 for their care. We have fully abolished all inpatient charges, making these bills a thing of the past.  


Patient services 

We’ve been rolling out new services. We’re in the middle of a revolution in women’s healthcare. This includes opening new menopause clinics, fertility hubs, endometriosis centres, maternity teams and same day gynaecology clinics right around the country. We’re rolling out new services in other areas too, including diabetes, stroke and obesity. We’re expanding existing services in areas including cancer care, palliative care and ambulance services.   


Minister Butler deserves huge credit for her work expanding and providing new services in mental health, home care and dementia.  


Minister Rabbitte deserves huge credit for her leadership and work on disability and neurorehabilitation services.  


Capacity and reform 


To do all of this, we’ve been rapidly expanding the capacity of our health service while fundamentally changing how and where care is provided to patients.  


We’ve added a record number of hospital beds. Having not opened a new hospital in 25 years we’re now progressing five at the same time. We’ve hired more than twenty thousand more healthcare workers including many more doctors, nurses and health and social care professionals. We’ve brought in the new public-only consultant contract and are increasing college and training places.  


One of the most common issues I hear from our councillors around the country is a difficulty for people accessing a GP. While it’s going to take time to impact, for every two GPs who retire we now have three to six new GPs entering practice. We’ve added millions more home care hours.  


We’ve rolled out an entire new community health service so people can get the care they need in their own community. We’ve backed this up with new state-of-the-art primary care centres. We’ve opened 38 so far. From Bandon to Baltinglass, Croom to Carrickmacross, Drumcliffe to Donegal Town.  Just next week we’re opening three more in Clones, Monaghan Town Killeshandra. 



It is now a generation since Fianna Fáil delivered the Good Friday Agreement. It is two generations since free secondary education was announced by Donagh O’Malley. Each was a transformative change. We are here again to deliver change, to make good on the republican values we believe in.  


As political activists, who come from cumainn and communities around the country, we know that Health as a political issue is about people, not statistics. We know that there is still a long way to go, that too many people are still waiting too long to get the healthcare they need. Behind every figure is a patient and their family. If they are waiting, they are worried. Beyond anxiety there is the physical or mental pain of every condition.    


There is a long way to go, but Fianna Fáil in government is making progress. We are delivering for many patients and families. Our goal is deliver for all. To deliver a health service that gets everyone the care they need when they need it. A health service that treats everyone with dignity. A health service to be proud of. A health service fit for our republic.  


Thank you.