Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has criticised underinvestment in healthcare under Fine Gael in a private meeting, saying there were “very significant problems” when he took office.
During an online meeting for Fianna Fáil members on Monday evening, Mr Donnelly said the situation he inherited was “just unacceptable”.
He outlined a litany of issues faced when he took up his current position – which was previously held by two of his Fine Gael cabinet colleagues, Simon Harris and Leo Varadkar.
He told the meeting “when we came into Government, there were a large number of very significant problems” and that the last election had been partially triggered by healthcare. He outlined that waiting lists were the longest in Europe and how the health service had been through “worsening and worsening” trolley crises, it is understood.
Meanwhile, he said that Ireland had the lowest level of consultants per capita, and the lowest ratio of beds per head of population, anywhere in Europe. Clinical strategies had been underinvested in, he said, with the National Cancer Strategy getting €2 million per year rather than the €20 million it was supposed to get, the National Maternity Strategy getting €1 million rather than €9 million, and the National Ambulance Service strategy getting €1 million instead of €10 million.
He told the meeting the “pressure points” in the system are hospitals along the west coast, naming Kerry, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Mayo, adding that was an indication “we have not been investing nationally in a balanced way in the kind of way we should have been”, saying that “coming into Government this is a very, very serious set of challenges that we have to deal with”.
Asked by a Fianna Fáil member about a case where a child had been waiting five years to be seen for an assessment, he said the Government was focused on delivering paediatric healthcare and the “situation that we inherited when we came into Government, it was just unacceptable”.
At the same meeting, Mr Donnelly said the BA.2 variant of Covid-19 was causing several hundred thousand cases a week.
Asked about the comments, a spokesman for Mr Donnelly said the coalition government is “united on the need to transform and reform the health service” which was evidenced by the “significant extra investment in our health and social care services in the two budgets since coming into office”. He said significant investment had allowed for increases in the number of beds, and the hiring of more staff. “It is widely accepted across Government that our waiting lists are unacceptably long and remain so,” the spokesman said, pointing to plans to shorten the lists, including a mutli-annual plan currently being prepared for cabinet.
Fine Gael has been asked to comment.