Minister for Health ‘more interested’ in PR than patient health

Harris fails to attend 'for fourth time' to answer on Letterkenny cardiology services

Minister for Health Simon Harris was accused in the Dáil of being more interested in public relations than in the health of patients.

Fianna Fáil TD Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher made the criticism, claiming that the Minister had failed for the fourth time to be in the House to answer questions on the issue of cardiology rehabilitation services at Letterkenny hospital.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath who raised a separate health issue about a crisis in the number of GPs with Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill, also criticised the Minister for his non-attendance.

Mr McGrath said he was “disgusted” that Mr Harris did not attend.


“I met him in the corridor....only 15 minutes ago, so he is in the House,” he said. “This is not the first time that this has happened. He is running around on the phone but he will not come in and answer questions.”

Minister of State for Health Finian McGrath, who was standing in for Mr Harris, insisted his Government colleague was very hard working.

Mr Gallagher said he had raised the issue of cardiology rehabilitation in Letterkenny four times in the Dáil but the Minister "has yet to present himself in the House to debate these matters".

Accusing Mr Harris of being more interested in PR than the patients in Co Donegal, he claimed the Government “spent some time this afternoon after I had raised the issue deciding how it could get out a statement before I raised it in the Dáil and secured a favourable response”.

Rehabilitation services

He said there had been no rehabilitation services in the past six weeks for patients who had had a heart attack or stent procedure because of the failure of telemetry machinery, which electronically monitors such patients.

New telemetry monitoring machinery will be provided but Mr Gallagher said they also needed a second nurse. “There is no point in having this unit if it is not fully staffed.”

He said there was only one nurse available while a second nursing position had remained vacant for six years.

Mr McGrath said he would refer the issue of the second nurse to Mr Harris and he pointed to the cross-border PCI (primary percutaneous coronary intervention) service provided through Altnagelvin hospital in Derry to patients in Donegal. He also said €120 million in funding had been provided to Letterkenny hospital.

Mr McGrath and Mr Cahill highlighted a crisis in the number of GPs in the State.

Age concerns

Mr McGrath said 666 GPs were currently aged over 60 and 244 of them were over 65. “We are now even closer to the cliff edge with the viability of GP services in significant areas of the country at stake.”

Cavan, Clare, Dublin, Kerry, Offaly, Tipperary, Cork and Wexford stand to lose at least 25 per cent of their GPs in the next seven years, he said.

Mr Cahill said GPs, particularly sole practitioners, were expected to work extremely long hours.

“They have alternative options in Canada and New Zealand that are far more attractive. If we are serious about this we must change their terms and conditions.”

The Minister of State said there were currently almost 2,500 GPs contracted under the GMS medical card scheme and this meant a vacancy rate of less than 1 per cent.

He acknowledged that vacancies had to be filled and that some young medical graduates were moving abroad.

“However we are addressing these issues and doing our best to ensure excellent general practice services are provided throughout the country.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times