Leo Varadkar returns from US to face critics

Opposition accuse Minister for Health of failing to show leadership and going AWOL by not makingny statement on trolley situation

Health Minister Leo Varadkar will today scramble to regain the political initiative after coming under heavy fire for taking a US holiday as the hospital trolley crisis unfolded.

The Department of Health confirmed Mr Varadkar is due to fly back to Ireland later today after the week-long holiday during the Dáil winter break.

However, officials have refused to clarify if the return trip had already been planned or if the scandal has forced him to cut his vacation short.

Mr Varadkar is understood to be flying back from the US after leaving late last week — just as the latest trolley crisis was emerging.

While Opposition TDs say they accept everyone needs time to recharge, they have accused the Fine Gael TD of failing to show leadership and going AWOL by not making any statement despite having access to emails and phonecalls and being kept up to date on affairs by speaking with senior HSE personnel.

“What I find extraordinary is we don’t have some statement from the minister yet,” Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said.

“It doesn’t matter where he is, he can provide a statement wherever he is. Everyone is entitled to a break, but we are facing an unprecedented situation here. The HSE itself has admitted the crisis is raising concerns over patient safety, but Minister Varadkar has remained worryingly silent.

“His only attempt to address the issue has been the establishment of the emergency department taskforce [last month].

“However, this committee which only meets once a month will find it difficult to tackle what has now become a daily crisis.”

Mr Kelleher’s criticism was mirrored by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who accused Mr Varadkar of going AWOL during the crisis.

“Overcrowding, the closure of A&E services and record numbers on trolleys are a direct result of the policies of Fine Gael and Labour,” said Mr Adams.

“Meanwhile, the minister for health appears to be AWOL. This is unacceptable. Minister Varadkar needs to surface and to address this developing crisis with urgency.”

The Louth TD said in the largest hospital in his own constituency, Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda, that80 people, including two children younger than six months old, were facing the prospect of being treated on trolleys.

Describing the problems as “a major crisis facing the State”, Mr Adams said immediate action is needed.

Meanwhile, chairman of the cross-party Oireachtas health committee, Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, has rejected calls for the group to hold an emergency meeting on the trolley count scandal tomorrow.

Responding to calls from Fianna Fáil, Mr Buttimer said the committee is unavailable this week and is already due to meet with coeliac and Huntington’s disease patient groups when it returns from the Dáil break next week.

While January 22 could be available for any meeting, no decision has yet been made.

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