I wrote a few weeks ago in this column that many of the very serious problems that we are facing in this country are being sidelined because of the Brexit chaos. As the newspapers, radio and TV are dominated by the shambles in the UK, things are getting worse here in terms of the housing crisis and our beleaguered health service.
Last week it was revealed that there are over 10,200 people now officially recorded as being homeless, with over 3,200 children in that tally. I remember Simon Coveney saying at one stage that there would be no-one in emergency accommodation by the end of the summer of 2017. Eoghan Murphy has made many fine statements and speeches since he was appointed Housing Minister – yet the situation is getting worse. The Government’s policy on the homelessness situation has been an abject failure.
Not only that, but the general housing situation is a farce, with young people unable to afford a mortgage for a modest house in any major urban area – despite the fact that they are working in good jobs. It is clear that the policy being pursued by the Government is not working in this sector either and that new ideas are now needed.
However, even worse is the situation in our health service where there are chronic gaps that are going to get even worse. Nurses have recently highlighted their issue with staffing and the failure to be able to stop the mass emigration of qualified nurses to better-paid and less stressful work abroad. The problems with waiting lists, the shortage of consultants and the massive delays at A&E units across the country are well documented, but there is also a crisis developing at Primary Care level over the past ten years that the Government will simply have to address.
The number of available GPs is reducing all the time and those who are in the system are in many cases overworked to the point of exhaustion.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if the vast majority of people who are ill could be treated by a GP, it would save the system a fortune. Minimising the numbers of people who are clogging up A&E units will benefit everyone, not least the people who are really ill and in need of hospital treatment. Yet the money being spent on the Primary Care sector is not nearly enough. It is very short-sighted thinking.
If people think we have problems in our health service now, a far bigger crisis is coming down the tracks in the next 10 to 20 years when our elderly population levels will explode, given that the number of people living longer is growing all the time. That will put huge additional pressure on the already creaking service.
Every year more and more resources are thrown at the health service, yet the problems seem to grow and grow all the time. The facts are that Ireland will need more hospital beds, more doctors and nurses to staff them, and a properly funded Primary Care system, or the type of problems that we have at the moment are going to be far worse in the future.
Going forward, new ideas are certainly needed in our health service. We seem to be stuck in a time warp where the waiting list figures, the shortage of nurses and doctors, and the number of people on trolleys and those awaiting treatment and operations gets worse and worse. The people who are actually in the health service are doing a great job but they are under increasing pressure and our population demographic will put even greater pressure on the system going forward. Whether there is a deal or a no deal Brexit, our health system is facing very serious challenges into the future. Those challenges will have to be met head on by either Simon Harris or whatever Government is in place.