Plan to tackle trolley crisis will cost 1,750 lives, doctors warn
The short-lived political honeymoon of new Health Minister Simon Harris is already over, after senior doctors described his new Government's response to the trolley crisis as "anaemic", claiming it could lead to 1,750 patient deaths.
Mr Harris, who crossed the threshold of the Department of Health to be briefed by officials for the first time yesterday, also came under fire from Fianna Fáil, despite his appeal to take the "politics out of health".
He faced stiff criticism from hospital emergency consultants who condemned the new Programme for Government for producing a "watered-down" plan to ease the trolley crisis.
They are incensed that it proposes to take until 2021 before the vast majority of patients who are languishing on trolleys can wait less than six hours for a bed.
"Given the evidence that 300-350 patients die avoidably each year as a direct result of emergency department crowding, the current minimalist Programme for Government is likely to see a further 1,500- 1,750 members of the community die as a result of this inertia," they warned.
"This represents a significant and unacceptable watering down of the current standard," the doctors in the Association of Emergency Medicine said.
"One of the Government's first and most important tasks should be the need to invest in Ireland's creaking health service to ensure that the trolley crisis, which has been with us since 1997, is finally made a thing of the past.
"Sadly, the commitments in the new Programme for Government are rather minimalist and seem to represent steps backwards rather than forwards in the attempts to solve the problem."
They pointed out that in June 2012, former Fine Gael Health Minister Dr James Reilly committed his government to have 95pc of patients discharged or admitted to hospital within six hours of their registration.
Meanwhile, the hopes for all-party consensus on the direction the health service will take in the coming years was also delivered an early setback, after Fianna Fáil health spokesman Deputy Billy Kelleher reiterated his party's opposition to plans to break up the HSE.
Fine Gael supports the dismantling of the HSE as part of its plan for universal health care.
Mr Reilly appointed the current Director General of the HSE Tony O'Brien in 2012 to begin the winding up of the HSE. The proposals to replace the HSE with a commission and set up hospital trusts is repeated in the Programme for Government agreed with Independent TDs.
However, Mr Kelleher, in an early signal of a bitter political divide on the health service, insisted: "Fianna Fáil believes that health services should be organised and managed as a unitary national service that is strategically co-ordinated with a strong emphasis on integrated care.
"We believe the HSE should be improved, not broken up. The development and sustaining of integrated services on a national and regional basis needs a national structure."
The party continued to have "grave concerns" about Government plans for the creation of independent hospital trusts.
"I am very concerned as to what such a re-organisation might mean for services in hospitals such as Navan, South Tipperary General and Portiuncula. The services being provided in smaller hospitals will be at the mercy of larger hospitals and in an independent trust," Mr Kelleher added.