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One million on hospital waiting lists and children sleeping in Garda stations – Ireland’s worsening crises

One fifth of the population on waiting lists

Data published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund indicates that almost one million people are waiting for patient appointments in the first half of the year.  In June 2018, over half this amount (511,415 people) were awaiting an outpatients appointment, almost a third of which are waiting over 12 months. 

A memo from the HSE and Department of Health referred to in the Euro Health Consumer Index 2017, advised of a programme to reduce waiting lists to no more than 18 months.  Even where that target is reached, the Index states, it will still be the worst waiting time situation in Europe.  In June 2018, 80,697 people (16% of the total waiting list) were waiting longer than 18 months for an outpatient’s appointment.  Of these 80,697 people, over one-fifth are aged 65+ and a further almost 20% were aged between 0-15 years.  We know that waiting lists disproportionately affect those on low incomes and those who cannot afford private healthcare, creating a two-tiered health system.  41% of those waiting more than 18 months for an appointment are either children or the elderly.

Waiting lists for outpatients, in-patients and in-patient day cases rose by 48% between June 2014 and June 2018.  In a country listed among the top five wealthiest in the world, this is simply unacceptable.

Child homelessness at critical levels

Over the past few days pictures have emerged of children sleeping in a Garda station in Dublin, one family of many not among the 1,700+ who accessed emergency accommodation in B&Bs, hotels and hostels.  Figures for June 2018 indicated that 9,872 people accessed emergency accommodation, including 1,754 families and 3,824 children.  This does not count the number of people ‘couch-surfing’, accessing temporary housing in local authority areas (a recent change to how the figures are counted), and those sleeping rough.  In reality, the numbers are far worse.

A report published by the Children's Rights Alliance showed the negative impact of homelessness on the education of thousands of children.  The report found that not having their basic needs met, that is adequate food, rest and general wellbeing, meant that children had less focus in school and more absences.  Parents of homeless children reported that school was important for their children because it offered some stability at time when so much else was uncertain.  Teachers are providing invaluable supports to children experiencing homelessness, but often without adequate training or supports themselves.  This places a strain on our education system that it is ill-equipped to deal with.  

We need to stop measuring Ireland’s ‘recovery’ in terms of the economy alone and start looking at how we treat our people, particularly the most vulnerable.  Government must do better to tackle our many crises.  In our Budget Choices 2019 Briefing, Social Justice Ireland provided a roadmap for Government that would make serious inroads to these and many other issues experienced in Ireland today, but it will take political will to get there.