Consultants and nurses should not be on extended Christmas holidays - Taoiseach

Varadkar says HSE winter plans have not worked for years because of shut down

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, responding to a question from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, has said that nurses and doctors should not take holidays over the Christmas period to help ease hospital overcrowding. Video: Oireachtas TV


Nurses and hospital consultants should not take holidays in early January, the Taoiseach has told the Dáil as it debated plans to deal with overcrowding in hospitals this winter.

Mr Varadkar also said a new HSE winter plan is needed where hospitals are not effectively closed for seven of the 12 days of Christmas and new year.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also said that in such a plan “consultants would not be on holidays in the first week of the year, particularly those who work in emergency departments and nurses will not be on leave in the first two weeks of January”.

He said radiology departments and laboratories should be open and operating “at full whack” over Christmas and new year.

“We need to make sure that every bed will be open. That is the kind of winter plan we need, not the kind we have had for years and years that does not work.”

Mr Varadkar said that between December 22nd this year and January 3rd next year there were 12 days, seven of which would be Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays and hospitals were effectively closed for seven of those 12 days.

He was responding to Fianna Fáil criticism and details of a HSE review, revealed in The Irish Times, which showed that funding for winter planning in hospitals was effectively supplied too late to be of optimal use last year and that such resources should be agreed in July.

The final plan for this winter will only be submitted to the Department of Health in the coming days, however.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said that too many people, particularly the elderly “are suffering too much in emergency departments because of the absence of planning”.

He said a document leaked to The Irish Times examined the lessons to be learned from the winter 2017 health crisis. “We are now in November and we still have not seen a winter plan announced,” he said.

This was learned “through a leaked report, via Martin Wall, who makes up for the absences of transparency with the Government and the Department of Health ... by revealing confidential letters on a regular basis,” he added.

One such document revealed that €50 million to be spent on additional beds was not spent but was instead used to deal with the excessive spending of 2017.

Mr Martin said “that is incredible and it strains government credibility on the health issues, particularly in terms of emergency departments, to the very limit”.

Mr Varadkar said that as a doctor and a grandson he did not want to see any patient spending time on trolleys waiting for beds.

He added that there were 391 patients on trolleys on Tuesday morning, an increase of about 28 per cent on last year but “it is much the same as it was two years ago and most of those patients will be in beds by this evening”.

The Taoiseach added that 240 new beds had been opened in 11 hospitals across the State and 79 more would be open by the end of March next year.

He acknowledged that much of the reason more beds could not be opened had to do with planning.

He said hospitals, consultants, nurses and other staff needed to operate at full capacity at Christmas, New year and in the early weeks of January.

Mr Martin said Mr Varadkar had been in government for eight years and “needs to go and do it”.