'No cover-up' over hospital waiting lists, insists Taoiseach
There was no attempt to cover up or massage hospital waiting lists, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has insisted.
He said that while a "perception" had been created that 49,000 public patients had been "hidden" from official figures, it "is not true".
"The counting of the list has been the same since 2002," he said, while pointing out that it was initially established during Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin's time as health minister.
In the face of a barrage of Dáil criticism, the current minister, Simon Harris, said last night that he knew about the methodology used to compile waiting lists but he had asked the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) to review the situation.
"There's nothing new here. Did I know and did a lot of people in this House who have been talking about health for a long time know that when people have an appointment for their procedure they don't appear on the waiting list? I did," he said.
"Did I know the size of that? No, I didn't.
"Did I know there was a separate list? No, I didn't."
Mr Harris said "serious inroads" would be made into the waiting lists, promising that nobody would be waiting longer than 15 months for a hospital procedure by next October.
"So we are responding to what we saw last night," he said.
Mr Kenny said he found the 'RTÉ Investigates' programme "difficult to watch" but added it "is very necessary that these programmes and patients' stories in 2017 be heard".
The Taoiseach noted that €14.5bn would be spent on health this year while projects including the National Maternity Hospital, Children's Hospital and development of primary care centres were progressing.
"These are all improvements in the health service which, both of themselves and in respect of the staff who deliver them, are also to be commended, but this is not something that we can stand over," he said.
Mr Martin described the images of people suffering in pain as "shameful and disgraceful".
"The people who volunteered to be interviewed showed great courage and were articulate and brave.
"We owe them a great debt of gratitude," he said. He said the crisis in waiting lists was exacerbated by the previous government when then health minister James Reilly "buried" the NTPF.
"The government was warned time and again about the lists getting worse but the former ministers, Senator Reilly and Deputy Varadkar, were in denial about that and, in particular, the length of time on waiting lists," he said.
Mr Martin asked that "if anything comes out of the programme" it would be that "no child with scoliosis has to wait beyond when it is medically important for that child to have the operation, in other words, that the curvatures do not get so extreme that it damages the child and causes more clinical complications".
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the situation was "just another example of a health service in a state of perpetual crisis".
"It is about the 587 people on trolleys today, cancelled surgeries, thousands of hospital beds removed and a two-tier system in which health workers, particularly nurses, are not properly treated, and where patients suffer," he said.
"The plight of patients, especially children who have scoliosis, and the bravery and anguish of their families, captured so graphically on last night's programme, has further eroded confidence in the Government, our general politics, our political system and our health services."
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the work being done by an Oireachtas committee on a 10-year plan for health "is absolutely critical now".
He urged the all-party group to finalise its report as quickly as possible and focus "on long-term proposals that will expand capacity and increase outputs".
Mr Howlin said whatever was recommended must be accompanied "by a clear implementation plan and detailed costings".
Mr Harris said he wanted to see managers in the health service held accountable. "I'm the Minister for Health, I set policy and I provide funding.
"I then expect our managers to get on with doing the job. I've written to the director general asking how do each of our managers right across the health service measure up," the minister said.