'Ten years on, how could you say anything has improved?' - heartbroken widower of brave Susie Long
A decade on from the death of healthcare campaigner Susie Long, her heartbroken widower claims things haven't improved as almost 700,000 people are still on the public waiting list.
Susie (42) captured the hearts of the nation as she revealed in 2007 that after being referred for a colonoscopy on the public waiting list, she had to wait seven months - while a friend who was a private patient was seen within three days.
Tragically by the time that mother-of-two Susie was diagnosed with bowel cancer, it was too late to save her.
With recent figures showing that almost 700,000 people are on public waiting lists here, Susie's widower Conor Mac Liam said little has changed in the 10 years since she passed away.
Speaking on The Pat Kenny Show on TV3 yesterday, he said: "I think when we are talking about a figure of almost 700,000, how could you say things have improved?
"Some time after Susie died the focus was on the colonoscopy waiting lists, they decided to segregate them into urgent lists and non-urgent lists.
"I have to say I think there are many GPs that are skeptical of that, as am I.
"There are many conditions, you can have bowel cancer and have no symptoms. The point of a colonoscopy is if to find out if it is urgent or not.
"There are still people waiting more than a year, that is still going on."
When Susie was seriously ill she had to move to Dublin as palliative care was not available in Kilkenny.
In 2009 the HSE said that hospice would be built at St Luke's Hospital Kilkenny in 2013, something which hasn't materialised.
Liam has spoken candidly about that time and how vital it was to them that Susie received the care she needed.
He said: "I am from Dublin originally, my parents live in Dublin and we were able to effectively move in with them.
"I have to say that it was so important to us as a family to have a period where Susie was cared for, she wasn't afraid of death and we were able to have a goodbye over a period of weeks."
Liam said that the difference in care between public and private health patients is something that needs to be tackled.
He said: "It's clear that there hasn't been the spend that there should have been in terms of staffing.
"Nurses have been having an intolerable under huge pressure in particular, other staff are too I imagine...
"I think the problem is that the government doesn't have a vision to actually resolve the issues.
"In my view, and I know it was Susie's view too, that we should have a public health service similar to the NHS in Britain, where everyone has free and equal access."
The HSE said in a statement that they plan to open seven new hospices between 2017 and 2021, including a new unit in the South East in 2021, which would be built on the grounds of University Hospital Waterford.
They said: "This has been made possible through a partnership approach between statutory services and Waterford Hospice Movement, a local voluntary organisation which is providing the capital to build the new unit. The on-going revenue to run the service will be provided through the HSE.
"The unit will cater for patients throughout the South East and will build on the already very well developed palliative home care services and the existing network of palliative care support beds.
"Patients from Kilkenny will be able to access the new service which is just 40 minutes from Waterford.
"It has been agreed that once the service has been operational for a year to 18 months a review of patient need will be undertaken and this will include the requirement for additional hospice beds in Kilkenny."
A HSE spokeswoman added in a statement: "The HSE and Ireland East Hospital Group would like to gratefully acknowledge the support provided by the Susie Long Hospice Fund to St Luke’s Hospital Kilkenny.
"The Fund has enabled St Luke’s to enhance the care provided to palliative patients at the hospital through the provision of equipment and additional support to individuals and their families.
"In addition to the provision of palliative care services, the new Susie Long Day Services Unit (including endoscopy services) was opened in 2015."