22 March 2010

My Speech on the Health Service at last weekends Fine Gael Conference

Speech by Senator Frances Fitzgerald, Fine Gael Seanad Leader & Spokesperson on Health
During the session, ‘FairCare: Fixing the Irish Health Service’

Chairman, colleagues, fellow members of Fine Gael and fellow users of the Irish health service, week after week, it gets worse, if you’re a patient in the Irish health system.

You had x-rays carried out but you don’t know if yours was properly examined.

Your GP referred you to a hospital but heard nothing back from that very same hospital.

Or, if you’re a teenager in need of psychiatric assistance, you might end up in an internet Cafe overnight.

Friends, after 13 years of continuous Fianna Fail Government – three different Ministers for Health, Mary Harney, Micheál Martin and the current Taoiseach Brian Cowen – what have we got?

• We’ve got a health service that doesn’t serve.
• That costs the earth.
• That frustrates those who work in it, some of the more highly qualified medical professionals in the world, people making life saving interventions everyday, giving their all in a broken system.
• And that often betrays those who depend on it.

And all of that’s been going on for so long, it’s hard for people to imagine a health system that actually works.

Fianna Fail in Government has viewed running our health service as an inconvenience rather than an honour.

When the current Taoiseach was the Minister for Health he couldn’t wait to get out of the job. Angola, he called it.

And then he, and his Cabinet farmed out responsibility for heath to a faceless bureaucracy. Faceless and dysfunctional, that bureaucracy, from the word “go.”

Let’s make this the year we say goodbye to a Fianna Fail Government running the Department of Health - the year in which we get a new team into the Department of Health. Not just a different face from a stale Government but a new team of people part of an energised and reforming Fine Gael Government.

A Government led by a Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, who is committed to making our health system fair, equitable and accountable to Government, to the Dail and to the public.

The commitment of Fine Gael and Enda Kenny to health reform is not confined to mere rhetoric, sound bites or slogans. We have put together a plan based on working and costed-international models. A proven plan based on universal access and a health system that prioritises medical need - not bank balance.

Our FairCare health plan will restore faith and trust in the Irish health service. No patches. No sticking plasters. Major, radical, workable change:

• The mother woken by a sick child in the early hours of the morning will know she can get a GP free of charge.
• The public patient who needs an operation will know they won’t be put on a back burner while a wealthier individual is favoured.

The full reform process will take time but we can deliver some quick and tangible results. Within a year of a Fine Gael government taking office, evidence will show that change and reform are happening.

For too long, the buck has been passed when it comes to accountability in our health service. This lack of accountability has failed people like Rebecca O’Malley who was let down by the Irish health system. Rebecca’s misdiagnosis epitomises the failure of our health service to put patients before systems – a failure that goes beyond any one patient.

On Minister’s Harney’s watch the so-called health system wrongly gave nine women the all clear in Portlaoise Hospital. 3,000 women’s cases subsequently had to be reviewed. In the North-East, 6,000 chest X-rays had to be reviewed after the health system failed to detect cancer in nine patients, one of whom died. Now in Tallaght Hospital, 23,169 X-rays are being reviewed after yet another failure.

It is clear the system is failing and the Government’s obsession with systems rather than patients is not healthy – in a very literal sense.

But we did not come here to Killarney tonight to bemoan the problems in the Irish health service – they’re clear for all to see.

We came here to deliver a message of hope – a message that a proven alternative way is possible, is viable, is workable. That policy is the one we have outlined in our FairCare document, sending the clear message to patients that change and equity in our health service is on the way – a message to staff in our hospitals and our wider health system that support and resources for your work and your efforts will be delivered – and a message to the electorate – to the people of Ireland – that Fine Gael is not a party of opposition but rather a Government in waiting.

Thank you very much.