SINN Féin’s spokesperson for health has said that he is “concerned” about what he is seeing on the ground in terms of hospital overcrowding and has concerns about “the type of winter that we’re looking at”.
Waterford TD David Cullinane visited Cork City this week and attended scheduled meetings with management of Cork University Hospital (CUH) and with city paramedics to identify the real difficulties being faced ahead of the winter season.
Following his meeting with CUH management, he told The Echo that the overcrowding that was seen at the hospital during September was at a level that would usually be seen in November.
“We are in for a very rocky winter,” said Mr Cullinane.
He said that he published proposals last July and produced a summer plan instead of a winter plan “because there’s no point producing a plan in winter when it takes time to put a lot of the solutions in place”.
“The Government is going to produce some sort of winter plan but it will be too late, as it always is, and people are going to feel the effects of it.
“I think we’re already seeing it in hospitals so I’m very concerned about what I’m seeing on the ground and what I’m hearing and the type of winter that we’re looking at.
“I would say to people, don’t despair and buy into this notion, which is what those who want to protect the two-tier system want you to believe, that healthcare cannot be fixed — it can be fixed,” said Mr Cullinane.
He said that the meeting was “very constructive” and that the need for more community beds as well as acute beds was highlighted.
“They have put an application in for an additional 100-bed unit. That should be supported and that’s exactly what I’ve been calling for now for some time, more capacity, more beds.”
He said that the capital approval process also needs to be simplified as currently it takes “far too long” for a capital application to go through.
Speaking about the new elective hospital for Cork, he said that unless the hospital has in-patient beds that allow for more complex elective work such as knee operations to be carried out, it “won’t do what it needs to do” and it will not take pressure off CUH.
“I think we need to ask ourselves what kind of elective hospital we want. I’m concerned about what I’m hearing already about what the hospital actually won’t do.”
He called for a top-tier hospital that operates on a 24/7 basis and has in-patient beds.
He also said that the hospital would be suitably located on the northside of Cork City, for which his party colleague Thomas Gould, among many others, have been lobbying.
Mr Cullinane also spoke about Sláintecare and the recent resignations.
“Some commentators have talked about the slow death of Sláintecare or the end of Sláintecare, that’s not the case.
“What we’re seeing is maybe a collapse in confidence of this Government but there are other parties that are absolutely committed.
“I can tell you as somebody who wants to be the next minister for health, not only am I fully committed to Sláintecare, but I’m absolutely committed to building an Irish national health service and absolutely committed to making the reforms that are necessary,” he said.
“I would say to people who are losing confidence, yes, of course, people will lose confidence in a Government that is not delivering, but you then have to look at whether there is a new government that will do things differently and the answer to that question is yes.
“I don’t believe, nor will I contend, that we can solve all the problems overnight, or even over a week or a month or a year — it will take time to make the big reforms but Sinn Féin is absolutely committed to making that happen,” he said.
Speaking about the party’s €1.4bn alternative budget that was published last Thursday, he said that about €750m of that would be put directly into services and about €650m would be for capital funding.
“When I met with the manager of CUH, capital investment was actually top of his agenda.
“They need more beds but they need physical space to build the beds.
“They need more surgical theatre capacity, they need more diagnostic capacity, and that’s exactly what we’ve proposed in our budget.
“We have a €150m fund to boost diagnostic capacity because we have 200,000 people who are waiting for some sort of a diagnosis in the public system.
“We want to put 600 new beds in the system but they have to be physical new builds as opposed to saying to hospitals that you can conjure up space that doesn’t exist and then the beds don’t materialise.
“We provided the funding for 600 acute beds and, in total, 824 beds, which would include beds in the community which are important as well.”
The package of measures for mental health is €114m which Mr Cullinane said would be used to provide universal counselling, to provide an additional 180 psychologists for the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), to make CAMHS a 24/7 crisis intervention service, and to open 50 mental health beds.
There is also a package of measures for people with disabilities, costed at €113m, which includes additional speech and language therapists and occupational therapists.
The other element is to deliver on the big promise of Sláintecare and the big reforms in healthcare.
Sinn Féin has also budgeted €120m for a transition from a two-tier healthcare system to a single-tier system, which the party said would cost €1.2bn.
It would fund this as part of two terms in government as it feels that is what it would take to disentangle the private healthcare system from the public system and roll out universal GP care.
Mr Cullinane said that while the party’s package of measures is “ambitious”, it is needed “because of the challenge that we have in health”.
“There are 900,000 people on some form of health waiting list,” he said.
“Cork University Hospital has 31,000 people on a waiting list and just under 10,000 of those are waiting over 18 months and behind every single one of those figures are people, some of whom are waiting longer, who are in pain, some of them are children, and the longer they wait the more difficult it can become for patients.”