Cowen warns of limits on money for health


The Minister for Health and Children has warned that there is not an unlimited supply of money for the health services.

"There are no limitless funds, no bottomless pits," Mr Cowen said. "If we are serious about making the best use of our resources, we must allocate our money at the beginning of the financial year. We must produce one service plan per year. We must recognise that we cannot do everything immediately, but what we can do is plan so that priorities are introduced in the right way."

Delegates, however, called for a better deal from the Department for the mentally handicapped, the elderly and carers. Nobody spoke to a motion dealing with hospital waiting lists, which called for urgent Government action on the issue. It was submitted by the Liam Lynch cumann in Dublin South, with related motions from Donegal North East, Westmeath and Wexford, and passed unanimously.

Mr Cowen said that in the clamour for more money, people forgot that the services were being delivered. "The increase in the current year of 9 per cent in day-care work in hospitals and 1 per cent in in-patient activity, has meant that 17,000 more patients have been treated in hospitals so far this year compared to the same period last year."

That was almost unheard of in the health services and had been achieved through efficiencies and tight management. People must recognise that this managed growth demanded informed choices at national and local level, he added.

"The established services, and certainly the established vested interests, are very good at pushing for more. Some of them are very powerful and articulate at making their case. They can play on people's emotions and no matter how much we give them, many continue to want more. Given that we have finite budgets, if they get more than what was planned for, it is at the expense of others who have been for too long and too often at the back of the queue."

Calling for improved care for psychiatric patients and the mentally handicapped, Ms Anne Marie Cantwell (Tipperary South) said Fianna Fail had always built hospitals and schools and looked after the elderly. "We have an opportunity to look after those with special needs. Yes, they are being looked after, but £110 million is required over the next few years to provide proper day-care facilities and residential care throughout the State.

"Many people with mentally handicapped children who are being looked after at home find it very difficult to get a break or a day off. All we are asking is for residential care where the children can stay for a week or two. Those facilities are not there. We need them and we need to spend the money now. There is no taxpayer in the State who would object to giving an extra couple of pounds towards the mentally handicapped."

Mr Frank Maher (Louth) called for a comprehensive policy on caring for the elderly. "Many people tell me that on occasions they are put under pressure to have elderly relatives removed from hospital as quickly as possible and that they do not get adequate time to recuperate." He said carers had been badly treated by the State.

Ms Helen Martyn (Galway East) said the basic needs of those with physical and sensory disabilities were not being met. "All over the country, in every community, rural and urban, people with physical disabilities cannot leave their own homes. For instance, an 18-month wait for a mobile wheelchair is not uncommon."

Ms Martina Coombes (Dublin North) said: "Respite care for the handicapped is a basic requirement to give carers a much-needed break from having to be available, in some cases, on a 24-hour basis."

Calling on the Government to tackle the increasing number of suicides among young people, Ms Margaret McMahon (Limerick East) said there was evidence that self-harm among children and teenagers was increasing across Europe. "Suicide not only hurts the families involved but the whole community. Parents, teachers and students need to be educated to identify young people at risk." She said counselling services should be available to young people after school hours.

Ms Mairead Byrne (Kildare North) said child-care workers should be properly trained and supervised. Over the past 15 months, an expert working group on child care had been considering a national framework, and its report would be presented to the Government soon. It would predict a significant growth in the female workforce by 2011, with more married women, in particular, working outside the home. "This, in turn, will increase the demand for child-care services to anything from 20 per cent to 50 per cent."