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Speaking to the Medical Independent in an exclusive interview before the general election, the outgoing Minister for Health Simon Harris has defended his and the Government’s record in dealing with emergency department overcrowding, despite record-breaking trolley counts over the last year.
“You have to acknowledge the fact we came to office after a period of time where over 1,500 beds had been taken out of the health service by the previous government, the health budget had been slashed by, I think, in and around €2 billion, the number of nurses had declined and the country had no money,” according to Minister Harris.
“So obviously the health budget began to rise again when Leo Varadkar became Health Minister.”
Minister Harris pointed out that over his predecessor’s tenure as Minister for Health and his own, approximately 700 inpatient beds have been opened, with the number rising to over 1,000 if day beds are included.
“I accept that hospital overcrowding is unacceptable, but I also think that patients and doctors think ‘What are you going to do about it?’,” he said. “The answer to that is really multifaceted, but a major part of it is capacity. We’re now putting in the capacity. It can’t come quickly enough, I fully accept that and we have a fully funded plan to deliver 2,600 hospital beds over the lifetime of the next government – that work is already well underway.”
During the interview, the Minister underlined his commitment to Sláintecare, in the face of criticism that the Government has been too slow in rolling out the plan.
“I give great credit to a number of the smaller parties I work with who are committed to driving forward Sláintecare,” according to Minister Harris.
“It’s easy for people to say they’re in favour of Sláintecare, you have to prove it by your actions.”
The Minister referred to plans to dismantle the HSE and remove private practice from public hospitals as evidence of the Government’s commitment to the strategy.