Varadkar and Martin clash over patients on trolleys as Dáil returns

Abortion referndum, Brexit negotiations, trolley crisis to dominate this political term

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar takes Leaders’ Questions as the Dáil returns after its Christmas break

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar takes Leaders’ Questions as the Dáil returns after its Christmas break


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin clashed over responsibility for the number of people waiting on trolleys in emergency departments, as the Dáil resumed this afternoon following the Christmas break.

Mr Varadkar said he was not trying to defend the situation because “it is not defensible” and added that the bed capacity review would be ready by the end of the week.

Mr Martin had told the Taoiseach that four years ago “you, as minister for health, said you were sick to death of the problem and would solve it once and for all”.

He said at the time Mr Varadkar had referenced a long service plan that “never materialised”.

Mr Martin claimed there had been an attempt by the Government to normalise lengthy waiting times on trolleys and he criticised “the tolerance and complacency” from the Government about the numbers which had reached a new record high earlier this month.

Mr Martin also claimed that to 400 deaths a year were attributed to lengthy emergency department waiting times. He said in England it was considered a “shocking lapse” when people had to wait more than four hours on a trolley.

But Mr Varadkar rounded on the Fianna Fáil leader and reminded him that he was a member of the government that in 2006 had declared A & E waiting times an “emergency”.

Mr Varadkar also said if it was “simply a matter for funding the issue of overcrowding would have been sorted by now” as there had been a 20 per cent increase in funding.

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He said 415 people were on trolleys on Tuesday and this figure was expected to fall throughout the day by about 200.

GP contract

He said there were now more beds in place and there was a review of the GP contract and “obviously it takes two to tango” but the Government was hopeful a new contract could be agreed.

But Mr Martin responded: “Taoiseach, you’ve been in government for seven years and it’s about time you took responsibility for your time in government.”

The Fianna Fáil leader said “for the record” he was minister for health between 2001 and 2004 and had increased bed capacity by1,600 extra beds up to 2005.

He cited Letterkenny University Hospital, which he said had had 45 people waiting on trolleys. He said the hospital had made a submission on how to resolve the issue but had yet to receive a response.

The Taoiseach said funding for Letterkenny hospital increased from €94 million to €133 million this year.

“We have to have a health service where that level of increase results in better outcomes,” he said.

Mr Varadkar then told Mr Martin he was not referring to his time as minister for health. He said it was important to look back at the history of the issue and he pointed out that in 2007 when Fianna Fail was in power a decision was taken to start reducing hospital bed staff. “That was a decision made during the boom.”

Mr Varadkar said as minister for health: “I took the decision in 2015 to reverse that and increase the number of beds”.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said it was “a sad reflection that the sad news of 540 people on trolleys including 439 in emergency department is no longer shocking”.

He said it was shocking that 100,000 people spent a night on a trolley last year and he claimed the Government had almost perfected the “news cycle with many myths and proposed solutions”.

Mr Howlin said “it’s important not to talk down the health service. There is immense work being done in hospitals and the population was growing.”

The Taoiseach told him “I’m still shocked by the overcrowding we have in our hospitals and that it is taking so long to resolve.”

He also said estimate of 100,000 people spending a night on a trolley was based on counts taken at 8am and could include people who had spent just an hour on a trolley.