*Michael McNamara. Photograph: John Mangan

SPENDING ON HEALTH in Ireland is not bearing the necessary results, a Clare TD has said.

Speaking in the Dáil, Michael McNamara TD (IND) highlighted the matter of overcrowding in University Hospital Limerick (UHL) on a day when 97 people were on trolleys at the region’s main hospital.

He recounted, “On 14th January 2014, then Deputy Micheál Martin raised the spectre of overcrowding in hospitals. He stated that the Minister had neglected it as a priority in government and that is why there were record numbers last week, and the Minister tried to get away with it but got caught. The then Minister for Health, now Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, responded that Deputy Micheál Martin wasted money when there were billions of euro sloshing around. He also stated that the overcrowding in hospitals went back to the Tánaiste’s time as Minister for Health and that he would solve it as Minister for Health. At this stage, I suppose we are much less concerned with when it started and whose fault it is than when it will end and who will solve the problem”.

Deputy McNamara continued, “The Tánaiste has repeatedly said that the Government is a victim of its own success because of the rise in life expectancy. There has been a rise in life expectancy but not a hugely dramatic one. In 2014, life expectancy was 80.56 years in Ireland. It is now 82.81 years. It is an increase, but not one that would explain overcrowding levels. In January 2014, in the middle of winter, when Deputy Micheál Martin raised this issue, there were 359 people on hospital trolleys, 34 of whom were in Limerick. Today, in the middle of summer – everybody knows it will get much worse when we enter into the winter period again – there are 390 people on trolleys across the country, 97 of whom are in UHL”.

€19bn was spent on health in 2014, the Scariff native flagged, this was “in the midst of an economic crisis. The country was on its knees and the Government still found €19 billion to spend on health. We spend more than that now. We spend almost €24 billion on health. By OECD levels, we spend almost as any other country on health but it seems, from my perspective, and maybe the Tánaiste will differ with me, that our outcomes are not as good as those of other countries. Trolleys are, of course, in every hospital but the large numbers on trolleys seem to be a particular Irish problem”.

Responding to this address, the Tánaiste, Micheál Martin (FF) said there had been “a dramatic improvement in lifespan. Over the history of the State, we have gained 25 years in lifespan. In terms of health outcomes, there have been fairly dramatic improved outcomes on cancer care and survival rates and cardiovascular in terms of survival from cardiac issues”.

Good outcomes have been achieved on the back of health spending, he maintained. On University Hospital Limerick, the trolleys are down 20% compared to 2019 but that is not enough. The outpatient list is down 30%. There are an additional 730 staff, 100 additional beds and 200 more under construction. There is a surgical hub on the way. However, we need reform as well. The seven-day week roster idea is important in terms of getting better use of the asset that a hospital represents, and out of the equipment and the facilities, etc., and getting better value for money, get more productivity and get greater volumes done.
With all the investment, the volume of activity is increasing all of the time as well. That gets lost in all of the figures. To be fair to the health service, sometimes we do not give recognition of the fact that the extra spending has meant extra activity, operations and diagnostics. We have to continue to invest in community and primary care to take the pressure off the acute service and make sure people get the right care, at the time and in the right and most appropriate location”.

Investment in primary care is a positive, Deputy McNamara acknowledged while referencing the facility on Station Rd in Ennis. He also highlighted the shortage of GPs across Clare and Ireland. “It is increasingly difficult, as I highlighted to the Taoiseach, to get an appointment to see a GP in Scariff. That will be exacerbated by the new arrivals of persons seeking international protection and persons with temporary protection because no additional resources are being provided. There are difficulties in Newmarket-on-Fergus”.

Assurances were sought by Deputy McNamara that the matter of overcrowding in UHL would be solved in eight years and not for the next Government to be blaming their predecessors.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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