Issue of health funding must be tackled

January 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday, Aviva announced its plans to increase its health insurance charges. While we can all rail against this and the fact that people are being obliged to deal with increased charges at every hand’s turn, we must highlight the fact that it again points to a serious policy failure on the part of the outgoing Government with regard to the funding of health. The Government has flunked the test in respect of this matter on every occasion. The issue to which I refer was brought before both the High Court and the Supreme Court, where the Government lost. I was sorry it lost in the Supreme Court because the position it took in respect of risk equalisation was correct. However, the matter was then just abandoned and no action was taken. It must be two years ago since the decision of the Supreme Court was handed down. The Government applied a sticking plaster in successive Finance Acts in the context of tax relief.

The issues of health insurance and the funding of health must be tackled. The Labour Party will be publishing policies on these matters in the next couple of weeks. I accept this is a political matter which will be dealt with during the general election campaign. I will, however, be interested to discover the policy of the Fianna Fáil Party on health. That party has had nothing to say on this issue for many years. It left it to the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, who has not been a member of Fianna Fáil for some years, to speak on the matter. What is the Fianna Fáil Party’s policy on health? Does it have a policy? We have not seen such a policy but we would be interested in seeing it in the coming weeks.

More questions for HSE on care of children

December 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

The conclusions of the HIQA report that some children are unsafe in Special Care Units makes for very sobering reading.

It seems that hardly a month goes by without some revelation or other relating to HSE care of children.

Just last week it was confirmed that some 200 children have died in the last decade while in state care.

In October we got the grim details of the Roscommon child care case and we also discovered that almost 800 children ended up homeless and in need of emergency accommodation last year

The system is badly flawed in a number of significant respects. For instance, while HIQA is responsible for inspecting the various centres, including High Support Units and Special Care Units, the number of inspectors is clearly inadequate. The work that HIQA does is very valuable, but their resources are stretched too thinly.

The failure of the HSE to ensure that all staff are properly qualified is a problem in special care units, just as it is in other areas. In Coovagh House for example, it was found that 20 of 109 staff were unqualified. In addition, thanks largely to the recruitment moratorium, these facilities are also forced to rely on agency staff, rather than recruit badly-needed care workers.

While I welcome the appointment this week of a national director for childen’s services, the outstanding HIQA recommendations such as the publication of a national strategy for special care; the appointment of a monitoring office for special care units; and a review of national governance of special care services, need immediate attention

The Child Care Amendment Bill which is making its way through the Oireachtas will provide for some protection to children in care. The Bill should be prioritised ahead of some of the more frivolous pieces of vanity project legislation that are in danger of clogging up the system in the lead up to the dissolution of the Dail.

Roscommon report highlights urgency of children’s referendum

October 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

I welcome the publication today of the report into the Roscommon child care case.

I also welcome the unreserved and unequivocal apology issued by the HSE today, and hope that it may mark a new dawn in an organisation where heretofore the default response when it came to a crisis like this was to pull up the shutters, and distance themselves from any sense of responsibility.

The report is far-reaching and comprehensive, and Norah Gibbons and the team she led deserve full credit for the work they have done in this respect.

While the authors of the report did not regard recommendations on legislative change as within their remit, they do note that failure to consult with, and to hear the voice of the six children was an important factor in this case.

They also say that the proposed referendum on children’s rights, and the related legislation, would make provision for the voice of the child to be heard, and while they stop short of calling for the referendum to be brought forward, that is certainly the underlying sentiment.

The need for progress on this is one that I would regard as extremely urgent. I would call on the Minister for Children, Barry Andrews, to publish wording for the constitutional amendment and to announce a timetable for the referendum. If he is not in a position to do this now he should indicate clearly what the obstacles are.

The all-party Oireachtas committee agreed a wording earlier this year. No-one will disagree with the need to get the wording right, but it’s a pity that the Minister and the government only identified certain ‘unintended consequences’ in recent weeks, and not during the committee deliberations.

The Labour Party will of course co-operate, as we have throughout, with all reasonable efforts to put in place a Constitutional amendment to enhance the rights of children. We will not, however, tolerate any move designed to delay or further postpone this urgent and essential measure.

“Gagging the Ombudsman” report reflects poorly on HSE

July 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

The Report issued by Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly this week raises extremely serious issues, including a threat by the HSE to go to Court to seek to prevent the Ombudsman from communicating with the Oireachtas.

It is really regrettable that it is not possible to address these matters now, given that both Houses are in recess and won’t return until late September.

The matters raised reflect extremely poorly on the HSE and must be considered in detail by the Oireachtas. Certainly as far as the Senate is concerned I will be seeking an urgent debate on the Report when the House sits again in late September.

Meanwhile, the HSE should issue a full and detailed response to the Report, in order to explain its extraordinary behaviour throughout this entire episode.

Why must Ministers seek legal advice to deal with the HSE?

May 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

It is true that the accountability issue has been raised again in sharp relief in the investigations into the deaths of children in care. Given how often we are told that there is such a large amount of public resources devoted to the health services administered by the HSE, the blockage between those of us elected to these Houses and the people providing the services, which means it is not possible to establish precisely what is occurring, is incredible. Not even the Minister of State appears to be in a position to establish what is occurring.

The matter of different bodies arranging legal advice between themselves to establish their positions and whether they can move an issue forward is an extraordinary spectacle. Is it €16 billion per annum for the health Vote?

Members and, judging by what he has stated, the Minister of State cannot establish basic information without there being a competition between us and the HSE about legal advice. It is incredible that any democratic country is unable to have a proper debate or to establish information directly in the Houses. The HSE might have the best will in the world, but the manner in which it is configured and organised means it operates as a block to true democratic accountability in respect of child care and health services.

This matter is raised repeatedly in the House. How many more times will it be raised by practising, concerned politicians without anything seeming to happen? That people need to seek legal advice to establish whether they can do the jobs they are there to do is a spectacle.

HSE may not be fit-for-purpose to provide care to children

May 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

The inability of the HSE to clarify just how many children have died in their care in the last ten years is profoundly worrying.

The HSE was asked some months ago to compile figures on how many children in their care had passed away, but have STILL not been able to come up with a definitive number. This defies belief.

I appreciate that a portion of the period involved predates the establishment of the HSE. However, in a matter of such seriousness it is simply incredible that detailed records of the deaths of these children are not available, or that at the very least, that the number of such children is not known by senior HSE officials.

According to the CSO, excluding neo-natal deaths a total of about 300 children die each year, and the notion that as many as 20 of them are under HSE care hardly bears thinking about.

The further revelation today that the independent panel set up to look into the deaths of children in HSE care has still not received a single file on the individuals involved only adds to the picture of dysfunctionality and incompetence in the HSE.

Last week, the remains of Daniel McAnaspie were discovered in a field in Co Meath. The shocking murder of Daniel at a time when he was living in the care of the HSE is but the latest in a litany of scandals to beset the the organisation.

We now must ask the question as to whether the HSE is indeed fit-for-purpose when it comes to providing and managing child-care services.

Time to admit ‘implementation difficulties’ in children’s services are actually failings

May 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

Politics enters the equation when we come to discuss the requirement to allocate resources, expand provision and fund changes and improvements to children’s services. At its heart, politics relates to the allocation of public resources and the setting of priorities. As stated on previous occasions, I have never perceived debates of this nature as occasions on which to engage in party political contests. I certainly did not perceive the two to two and a half years the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children spent discussing this matter as an opportunity to engage in such a contest. However, that is not to state that politics does not enter the equation. As already indicated, it enters the equation in the most general sense when we discuss the level of priority we ascribe to this subject and the level of priority we are prepared to attach in respect of the requirement relating to the provision of additional resources.

We have debated matters of this nature with the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, on several occasions. I have no doubt that he is obliged to watch his p’s and q’s. I am not stating that he might misrepresent the position but he is obliged to defend the Government. He is not going to inform us that he is pressing for additional resources but that his requests have so far been refused. Nor is he going to state that attempts to employ the additional 265 social workers that are required will be accelerated or that these people should be recruited forthwith. I would be surprised if I was wrong in thinking that if it were left to the Minister of State, the recruitment of these social workers would be completed very quickly. However, action in this regard has been no more forthcoming than that required, in the context of additional funding and resources, in the area of child protection. Politics, therefore, enters the equation in that sense.

Opposition politicians are not only entitled to criticise the Government but are under a duty to do so, particularly where it makes commitments on which it fails to deliver. We would not be doing our job if we failed to engage in such a critique of the Government. However, I am not, as already stated, seeking to obtain a party political advantage in respect of this issue. I disagree with those who attempted to take such an approach to this matter in the past.

The debate on the report of the Ombudsman for Children provides us with a good opportunity to reflect on what we are doing. I accept we would not have time to do so but I believe we would be better served if we were to examine the report on a line-by-line basis. « Read the rest of this entry »

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