Senator Sharon Keogan — Hospital Waiting Lists, Covid Inquiry and Kaftrio
This is a welcome Bill, which abolishes the daily rate of €80 for acute inpatient services, up to a maximum of ten nights or €800 in a 12-month period. The Minister described the Bill in the Dáil as "a very clear symbol of our path towards universal healthcare". Do we have a clear path towards universal capacity? At the start of the month, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, stated there were no plans to make public transport free as that would increase the number of unnecessary trips. Does the Minister have any similar fears about universal healthcare?
We welcome the Government decisions to reduce prescription charges and increase medical card access for those aged 70 and over and, in 2022, to reduce the maximum monthly amounts families pay for medicines from €114 to €80. We look forward to strides in specialist services in endometriosis and perinatal, mental health and menopause care. The big issue is waiting lists and the plan in that regard. The 2023 waiting list plan is funding the HSE and the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, to reduce hospital waiting lists by 10% in 2023. Hospital waiting lists rose again in January due to the widespread cancellation of non-urgent appointments and procedures. In the same month, 589,670 patients were waiting to see a consultant. Overall, waiting lists fell by about 4% last year, well below the target of 18%. The challenges facing the healthcare system include access to care, overcrowding, waiting lists and services not being available during holiday seasons. Christmas, for example, was a mess last year. Others include children's healthcare, particularly for children with disabilities. The length of time children with scoliosis have to wait is scandalous.
Speaking of waiting, now that the Minister is in the House, I ask him for an update on the Covid-19 inquiry. The Taoiseach has stated the full public inquiry into the State's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic will not be done quickly and will take time but that he is determined to have an inquiry up and running this year, ideally by the middle of the year. He has indicated the inquiry will examine how the pandemic was handled in Ireland, covering healthcare aspects, testing, public health, advice and the economic and social response. I would like the media to be held to account too but we will see how that goes.
On Kaftrio, I thank the Minister for the work he has done. The decision did not come quickly enough but it came. I got an email last week from Vertex, which I have been hounding, as has the Minister. We just want to make sure the children in question are looked after in future. I will read from the email. It states: "We have discussed with the HSE the path forward for other CF patients who could be eligible for our medicines in the future but fall outside the existing reimbursement agreement." Can we get back to the drawing board on that in a timely manner? The email further stated: "We recognize that the Irish Government has put forward some proposals to improve pricing and reimbursement processes following the recent publication of the Mazars report and that the Department of Health is developing a new National Rare Disease Plan." I ask the Minister to outline those proposals.
We all want this process to work well. If we can help the Minister in any way to speed up processes with various companies he is trying to work with, we will do so. Procurement is very important when it comes to these medicines, as the Minister well knows. We must get the deal right at the beginning to make sure it takes in cohorts that may have variations down the line. It is equally important that we lock them in at that price at that time. I thank the Minister for the work he has done but the bottom line as regards Kaftrio is the price per head and the agreement reached with the pharma companies to access all of their drugs for anyone who needs them. We cannot go through this debacle again for the children with cystic fibrosis.