Varadkar defends Government care strategy amid chemotherapy delays for children

Taoiseach says ‘it’s wrong, it does happen’ when questioned on issues with treatment

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended his Government’s record on paediatric care. File photograph: AP Photo/Francisco Seco

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended his Government’s record on paediatric care. File photograph: AP Photo/Francisco Seco

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended his Government’s record on paediatric care, after it emerged children are having chemotherapy sessions cancelled due to a lack of beds.

Speaking on the Marian Finucane show on RTÉ Radio 1 on Saturday, Mr Varadkar said that space issues had led to the cancellation of some chemotherapy sessions for sick children. “It’s wrong, it’s terrible, it does happen,” he said.

He argued, however, that high levels of infection during the winter in children’s hospitals meant “it’s not a good idea to bring in patients who have cancer and who are immune-suppressed for their treatment”.

The Taoiseach said the medium-term solution for cases such as these was the construction of the National Children’s Hospital, a project which has been beset by significant budget overruns and political controversy.

“What we do about it, we build a new hospital,” he said. “It should have been built a long, long time ago, they were talking about building a new children’s hospital when I was a medical student.” He criticised Fianna Fáil’s record on health and health infrastructure spending during the boom. “This is a hospital that has been promised for 20 years; I’m the one who’s delivering it, my Government is delivering it.” He said the main campus would be delivered in 2022/2023, while satellite centres are coming on stream already.

Mr Varadkar was commenting on the case of a 10-year-old boy from Co Clare who has been affected by delays to his chemotherapy lasting up to 11 days, reported in Saturday’s Irish Independent.

Extra beds

“I know that [the new hospital] isn’t an answer for kids who are now currently sick, but there is no other solution,” he added. In the interim, he said extra beds are being made available in children’s hospitals. He denied that the Government had been “blindsided” by the early arrival of the flu virus this winter during exchanges with presenter Brendan O’Connor.

“You have to let me tell you what’s happening, it’s hardly reasonable for you to tell me what the problem is . . . I’m telling you the solutions we’re delivering,” the Taoiseach said. “I know these problems are real and they’re affecting people every day, and my job as Taoiseach heading a Government is to do something about it.”

He also discussed the case of a homeless boy who came before the courts for the theft of a bottle of orange, which was raised by homelessness activist Fr Peter McVerry in a letter to The Irish Times this week.

While he said he was not aware of the circumstances surrounding that particular case, he said: “I do know it is extremely unusual for someone to be prosecuted for something like that. There is sometimes more behind it, there may have been multiple offences or other offences, or it may have been the way to get them into the [social care] system.

“Children in Ireland are not being locked up for stealing a bottle of orange.”