Fianna Fáil Frontbench Spokesperson Willie O’Dea has expressed his disappointment at the Taoiseach’s failure to adequately address the concerns being raised about the future standard of maternity services at the Midwestern Regional Hospital.
Taking Leaders Questions in the Dáil on behalf of Party Leader Micheál Martin, Deputy O’Dea said “it will be several months before the full impact of the €750m in health service cuts will be felt in each area. To date, 1,500 people have left the health service and a further 2,000 are due to leave before the end of February. In anybody’s book that is quite an exodus. I am particularly concerned about cuts to maternity services. Is the Taoiseach aware of the concerns expressed by a number of senior medical practitioners about cuts to midwifery services, particularly in the Mid-West region in which there is due to be an exodus of 25% of staff in February? Is he aware of the statement made by the senior consultant obstetrician in the region, Dr. Gerry Burke, who said:
No plans to deal with the shortfall have been presented by the HSE or the Department of Health. The shortfall of over 20 per cent of midwifery staff will diminish the quality of maternity care these women and babies receive.
“Dr. Burke went on to state some of the women and babies to whom he had referred would pay with their lives. That is a serious assertion to make.
Deputy O’Dea said: “Is the Taoiseach in a position to provide the House with an assurance that the HSE and-or the Department have a contingency plan to deal with this issue? Will he assure us that the contingency plan is adequate and that it will be in place before the exodus to which I refer occurs at the end of February?”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny failed to give Deputy O’Dea assurances on the issues raised around midwifery services, commenting “the most recent information available indicates that in the period from September last year until the end of February next, some 3,500 staff will have retired from the health service. Approximately 1,500 retired during the four month period to the end of December 2011 and the remainder have indicated that they will leave by the end of February.” Mr. Kenny also said: “The comments made by Dr. Burke were outrageous. Deputy Willie O’Dea… will know that it is the Government’s intention to restructure the health service in order that everyone will have access to services as close to home and in as efficient a manner as possible.”
Deputy O’Dea further questioned the Taoiseach, “will the Taoiseach provide a categoric assurance that the maternity hospital system in place after the end of February will be as safe as that in place?”
However the Taoiseach again failed to address the concerns raised. Mr Kenny said: “The Minister for Health has set out the Government’s intention to move, during its lifetime, to a universal health structure. This will not be achieved by clinging to an aspiration that the best care and attention can be provided in the absence of major changes.
“When one considers the amount of money to be taken out of the health service over a period, one realises this is bound to have an impact.”
Commenting after the exchange Deputy O’Dea said: “There was a clear opportunity for the Taoiseach to address the concerns being expressed and put people’s minds at ease. He failed to do that on two occasions and this will only lead to a sense among the public that the Government and the HSE are not prepared for the exodus of staff in critical areas of the health service in the coming weeks.”