Varadkar 'suspicious' of waiting list figures
Health Minister Leo Varadkar questioned the validity of waiting list figures he received from one of the country's main hospital groups, saying they were "suspicious and out of character" with other regions.
The comments were made in a highly charged email which he sent to senior HSE executives in recent weeks, in which he also warned that "a head or heads will have to roll" if the trolley crisis in hospital emergency departments worsens this winter.
The email, seen by the Irish Independent, questions the waiting list figures he was getting from the Saolta hospital group, which includes University Hospital Galway.
The waiting list numbers were "in Saoltaland" and Mr Varadkar questioned if they were delivering.
Mr Varadkar, who has been at loggerheads with the HSE over the failure to deliver more progress in trolley delays and waiting lists, said he was worried about the upcoming winter months. "I have no reason to believe it won't be worse than last year and that really means a head or heads will have to roll," he added.
Asked yesterday about the email, Mr Varadkar said an implementation plan to reduce hospital overcrowding which was drawn up by a task force needs to be enforced.
HSE chief executive Tony O'Brien has now taken over as co-chair of the implementation group, along with nurses' leader Liam Doran. The HSE's director of acute hospitals Liam Woods previously had the role.
Mr Varadkar said he "believes in accountability", but admitted he does not have the power to sack anyone. Named officials have now been delegated responsibility and they need to be held to account, he insisted.
"Politicians are held to account at elections. It is important that executives, directors of nursing and directors are held to account," he added.
Additional funding has been provided for more nursing home beds, community beds and the opening of some 300 hospital beds, he added.
Asked if he himself should take the rap for the ongoing delays, he said he did not believe he should take the blame for a problem that has been there since he was a child.
"But I will take responsibility for it," he added.
He was speaking at the Rotunda maternity hospital in Dublin, where a €3bn capital spending package for health was announced.
The numbers on trolleys nationwide remained high yesterday. Some 340 patients were on trolleys waiting for a bed and another 88 were on trolleys in wards.
Fianna Fáil spokesman on health Billy Kelleher said: "The minister should have been on top of this a long time before now. The minister published with great fanfare the report of the emergency department task force on April 2.
"However, Department of Health files released to Fianna Fáil under Freedom of Information indicate that nearly three months after the taskforce report was published by Minister Varadkar, there was no implementation plan in place for it.
"Why wasn't the minister sending 'heads must roll' emails then? Indeed, why wasn't he sending them three weeks after the report was published? This is simply extraordinary and an appalling indictment of how the health services are being run."
In response, a spokesman for the Department of Health said: "The taskforce plan was published in April 2015 and an implementation group was then set up to implement that plan.
"So there is a fully-funded implementation plan in place and an implementation group to oversee its implementation.
"The group first convened in June, July and September and will continue to meet regularly."