The Donegal Senator pressed the Minister for Health James Reilly on the matter during an emergency adjournment debate tabled by the Senator last night (Tuesday 17 July)
Senator Ó Domhnaill said, “The Donegal to Dublin Hospital bus service which has operated an essential service to Donegal patients for over 38 years is being withdrawn from the 27th of July 27th. The HSE has cited budget constraints, claiming there are public bus services that patients can use instead. What they failed to mention is that these public buses are not wheelchair friendly and do not carry out direct drop-off and pick-up at the hospitals.
“It is a major insult to patients in Donegal that the HSE would cut a relatively cost effective transport service, while in the same week it is forced to cough up close to €100,000 in an embarrassing settlement with the Revenue for underpayment of VAT.
“Meanwhile overspending and waste in the HSE is out of control despite Minister Reilly’s many promises to cut agency staff costs, HSE taxi costs and overtime. Instead, agency staff costs have increased to €200m this year and taxi costs are up 10% over in a year to €28 million. This is all happening on Minister Reilly’s watch.
“I believe there will be little or no overall savings for the HSE as a result of its withdrawal of the hospital bus subsidy. The organisation will end up paying out more on private taxi runs to and from Dublin for Donegal patients who are simply not able to travel on regular bus routes.”
Responding on behalf of the Minister for Health, Minister of State Brian Hayes said: “I wish to make it clear that the Health Service Executive has no statutory responsibility to provide transport or support for patients to attend its facilities or clinics. As a rule, patients should make their own transport arrangements, especially where public transport is available, unless there are clear clinical factors involved.
“The cost of the subsidised bus service is now approaching €100,000 a year. Based on the number of the people using the service, the alternatives available and the cost effectiveness, the HSE has made the decision to discontinue funding the service from 27th July 2012,” said Minister Hayes.
In reaction, Senator Ó Domhnaill said, “This response just highlights the total lack of interest this Government has in services for Donegal patients. It is a disgrace that Minister Reilly would withdraw a hosptial bus that has provided such a valuable service to patients here for nearly four decades. It’s a time the Government representatives in Donegal spoke up and played a role in trying to keep this service in place.”