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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 119-138
 Header Item Parental Leave
 Header Item Addiction Treatment Services
 Header Item National Drugs Strategy
 Header Item National Drugs Strategy
 Header Item Hospital Services
 Header Item Covid-19 Tests
 Header Item Covid-19 Tests
 Header Item Hospital Staff
 Header Item Abortion Services Provision
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Covid-19 Tests
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Paediatric Services
 Header Item Disability Services Funding
 Header Item Covid-19 Tests

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 997 No. 4
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 82 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 119-138

Parental Leave

 119. Deputy Brendan Griffin Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee her views on a matter regarding an additional three weeks of parental leave (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24426/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee The Parent’s Leave and Benefit Bill 2019 provides for two weeks of parent’s leave and benefit for all new parents in employment or self-employment in respect of children born or placed for adoption on or after 1 November 2019. This is to facilitate parents in spending more time with their children in their critical first year of life.

The Government is currently considering a proposal to advance the extension of Parent’s Leave and Benefit to five weeks for all parents of children born after 1 November 2019, to enable every eligible parent of young children to spend additional time with their child.

The Government proposal would mean that eligible parents of children born during the pandemic crisis will get an extra three weeks of Parent’s Leave to offset the impact of having a child during the strict lockdown measures. The period in which Parent’s Leave can be taken will also be extended from one year to two years.  This, and related costs, will be considered as part of the Budget 2021 process.  The support is paid at a rate of €245 per week by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

Parental leave is also available which entitles parents to take unpaid leave from work to spend time looking after their children. Parents can take up to 22 weeks of parental leave for each eligible child before their twelfth birthday.

This will be a matter for Minister O'Gorman to progress following the transfer of this function to his Department.

Addiction Treatment Services

 120. Deputy Thomas Gould Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly if communication was made between him or his office, with the Minister of State Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Well Being and National Drugs Strategy on the topic of 12 Steps and other recovery support meetings prior to 1 September 2020 [24220/20]

 121. Deputy Thomas Gould Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly when a decision was taken to regard addiction recovery support meetings as an essential service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24221/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Frankie Feighan): Information on Frankie Feighan Zoom on Frankie Feighan I propose to take Questions Nos. 120 and 121 together.

  The situation regarding COVID-19 has been, and continues to be, an evolving situation. COVID-19 is still having a major impact both here in Ireland and elsewhere. The measures in place and the public health advice have been adapted to the changing circumstances and this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.

  The public health advice relating to Covid-19 is kept under continuing review by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), and it provides advice to Government in line with the current epidemiological position.

  The Government introduced new regulations for indoor events on 31st August, 2020 [(S.I. 326 of 2020) Health Act 1947 (Section 31a – Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No. 4) Regulations 2020]. The regulations, which state that events being organised indoors may have no more than 6 attendees, apply to social, recreational, exercise, cultural, entertainment and community events.   

  Clarification that drug and alcohol support groups were not included under this regulation was subsequently received from NPHET on 4th September.      

  I welcome the clarification that addiction support groups are not covered by the regulations governing indoor events. I would advise that support groups proceed with a degree of extra caution, as individuals with addiction problems are more vulnerable to the risk of Covid-19, and put in place strict protective measures.

National Drugs Strategy

 122. Deputy Thomas Gould Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly if a publication date for the 2019 end of year review of Supporting Recovery, Reducing Harm has been published [24222/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Frankie Feighan): Information on Frankie Feighan Zoom on Frankie Feighan The national drug strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, sets out Government policy on drug and alcohol use until 2025.  The strategy aims to provide an integrated public health approach to drug and alcohol use, focused on reducing the harms for individuals, families and communities and promoting rehabilitation and recovery.   

  The strategy contains 50 actions for delivery between 2017 and 2020. The implementation of these actions is monitored though the national oversight structures, supported by the coordinated system of monitoring, research and evaluation set out in the strategy.   

  The annual progress report on the implementation of the actions for 2019 has been delayed by the impact of Covid-19. The report will be presented to the National Oversight Committee, which is meeting on 18th September. I intend to publish the report shortly thereafter.

National Drugs Strategy

 123. Deputy Thomas Gould Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly the status of the mid-term review of Supporting Recovery, Reducing Harm [24223/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Frankie Feighan): Information on Frankie Feighan Zoom on Frankie Feighan The national drug strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, sets out Government policy on drug and alcohol use until 2025.  The strategy provides an integrated public health approach to drug and alcohol use, focused on reducing the harms for individuals, families and communities and promoting rehabilitation and recovery.   

  The strategy contains a 50 point Action Plan to be delivered between 2017 and 2020. Annual progress reports on implementing the actions are prepared.   

  The national drug strategy is a dynamic process, which is monitored through its national oversight structures. It has  the flexibility to introduce new measures after four years to address issues that emerge over that period.   

  The Department intends to carry out a mid-term review of the action plan at the end of 2020, in consultation with the national oversight structures.  This will provide an opportunity to reflect on progress in implementing the strategy from 2017 to 2020, and to consider the development of new actions to address emerging needs and challenges.   

  The review will allow policy to take account of the impact of Covid-19 on people who use drugs and on drugs and alcohol services and to plan accordingly for the remaining years of the strategy. It will also reflect the commitments in the Programme for Government as part of a health-led approach to drug use and misuse.

Hospital Services

 124. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan Information on Pádraig O'Sullivan Zoom on Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly if a doctor will be assigned to carry out assessments at a hospital (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24228/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Mary Butler): Information on Mary Butler Zoom on Mary Butler As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Covid-19 Tests

 125. Deputy Imelda Munster Information on Imelda Munster Zoom on Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly his plans to locate a Covid-19 testing centre in Drogheda, County Louth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24233/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Covid-19 Tests

 126. Deputy Imelda Munster Information on Imelda Munster Zoom on Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly his plans to locate additional Covid-19 testing centres in County Louth or in east County Meath; if so, the locations in which the test centres will be based; and when they are expected to commence operations [24234/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Hospital Staff

 127. Deputy Carol Nolan Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly the staffing budget for Portlaoise Hospital in each of the years 2017 to 2019 and to date in 2020, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24238/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Abortion Services Provision

 128. Deputy Seán Canney Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly if he will reverse the decision by his predecessor to alter the model of care for abortion provision (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24248/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly As part of the Government’s ongoing efforts to protect public health and limit the spread of COVID-19, the Department of Health and the HSE worked together to put new arrangements in place to temporarily allow termination of pregnancy services in early pregnancy to be provided remotely.

For the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency, where the need for social distancing, reducing personal contacts and reducing the burden on medical practitioners are paramount, it will be possible for a woman to access a termination under section 12 of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 (i.e. before 12 weeks) from her medical practitioner by telephone or video conference consultation. 

The arrangement enabling remote consultation will be reviewed once the public health emergency is declared over.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 129. Deputy David Cullinane Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly when pharmacies will receive the PPE, in particular surgical masks, that was promised by the HSE to keep pharmacy staff and their vulnerable customers safe from the potential risk of catching or spreading Covid-19 infection in the course of their working day in the pharmacy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24261/20]

 136. Deputy Colm Burke Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly when pharmacies will receive the surgical masks that the HSE agreed with a union (details supplied) will be supplied in order to keep pharmacy staff safe from the potential risk of catching or spreading Covid-19 infection in the pharmacy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24292/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I propose to take Questions Nos. 129 and 136 together.

  My Department, in conjunction with the HSE, is examining the issue of the provision of PPE across all parts of the health service, including health service contractors.

  I will keep the Deputy updated on progress.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 130. Deputy Emer Higgins Information on Emer Higgins Zoom on Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly if a 14-day view of Covid-19 cases will be published by electoral division regularly (details supplied) [24262/20]

 131. Deputy Emer Higgins Information on Emer Higgins Zoom on Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly the details of all Covid-19 cases for the most recent 14-day period available by South Dublin County Council electoral division [24263/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I propose to take Questions Nos. 130 and 131 together.

  Since the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) met for the first time, a commitment was given to collect and publish as much relevant data as possible while ensuring individual patient confidentiality is maintained at all times. While the nature and scale of the Covid-19 pandemic has been unprecedented, the collection of timely and comprehensive data has been instrumental in developing the health service response to Covid-19 and to the advice provided by NPHET and the Department of Health to assist Government decision-making in the wider response to the disease in Ireland.

  Comprehensive national statistics, information and data about Covid-19, including a timeline of confirmed cases by date, is published on a daily basis on the Department of Health website at https://www.gov.ie/en/organisation/department-of-health/ and on the Covid-19 Data Hub and Dashboards available at https://covid19ireland-geohive.hub.arcgis.com/. The published data are based on official figures provided by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) and the Health Service Executive (HSE).

  All datasets, charts and maps are updated on an on-going basis and in line with newly published data. Data in relation to COVID-19 confirmed cases at electoral division level are updated on a regular basis. However, the Deputy should note that care is required to ensure patient confidentiality is preserved and that no potential identification of individual patients arises. As a result, the data relating to confirmed cases by electoral division is not updated on as frequent a basis as the other data on the Data Hub.

  The Deputy may also wish to note that a range data on the epidemiology of Covid-19 in Ireland is also published in the daily report by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) available at https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/casesinireland/epidemiologyofcovid-19inireland.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 132. Deputy Alan Kelly Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly his plans to make changes to the restrictions policy in allowing birthing partners to attend the births with new mothers in addition to appointments leading up to that in University Maternity Hospital Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24271/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I acknowledge that the current restrictions in maternity hospitals are presenting difficulties and this is hugely regrettable.  However, it is necessary to reduce footfall in order to protect women, babies, staff and our maternity service as a whole. 

Maternity hospitals have performed well during the pandemic and have continued to keep women, babies and staff safe.  The fact that there have been no Covid maternal deaths in this country,and that we have a had a low incidence in pregnant women, suggests that the current approach is working.  However, we must remain vigilant as services resume and higher numbers of people attend hospitals. Maternity hospitals rely on very specialised personnel; should an outbreak of COVID-19 occur in a maternity hospital, the ability to provide safe, quality care would be severely impacted.  It should be remembered that maternity hospitals care for fragile infants at the extremes of prematurity.

All maternity hospitals are challenged by the pandemic, but those challenges vary considerably.  Decisions on any restrictions are therefore made, implemented and reviewed at hospital level.

Decisions to restrict visitors in our maternity hospitals have not been taken lightly.  Management and staff are acutely aware of the very important support provided by partners at the time of birth.  I have been assured that maternity hospitals wish to facilitate this support as far as possible.   In that context, I can assure the Deputy that restrictions, currently in place in University Maternity Hospital Limerick, have been minimised as much as possible and will be subject to ongoing review

Covid-19 Tests

 133. Deputy Imelda Munster Information on Imelda Munster Zoom on Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly if the HSE has ceased testing staff for Covid-19 at a company (details supplied) despite the fact that a number of night shift workers previously tested positive thus leaving day shift workers potentially exposed to Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24272/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 134. Deputy Brendan Griffin Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly if funding is available for a community group (details supplied) to set up a visitation, phone call service for isolated and elderly persons in the community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24277/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Mary Butler): Information on Mary Butler Zoom on Mary Butler As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Paediatric Services

 135. Deputy Colm Burke Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly if the newborn bloodspot screening test will be expanded from identifying eight rare treatable illnesses to 40 which is the current practice in Italy; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [24291/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly The National Screening Advisory Committee (NSAC) was established in 2019 and has held three meetings to date. 

  The Committee’s role is to undertake an independent assessment of the evidence for screening for a particular condition against internationally accepted criteria and make recommendations accordingly. 

  Professor Niall O’Higgins was appointed as Chair of the NSAC in 2019 and was asked that the Committee prioritise an examination of the approaches for the expansion of the National Newborn Bloodspot Screening Programme ('heelprick test') and work in that regard has been progressed by the Committee. 

  Ireland has traditionally evaluated the case for commencing a national screening programme against the internationally accepted criteria (collectively known as Wilson Jungner criteria). The evidence bar for commencing a screening programme should and must remain high.  This evidence threshold ensures that we can be as confident as we can be that the programme in question is effective, quality assured and operating to safe standards for the population.

  The Committee will evaluate submissions and provide recommendations on a case by case basis.  A meeting of the NSAC took place on 17 July 2020 where the Committee considered; 

  (1) the addition of ADA-SCID to the blood spot screening programme and

  (2) a change in the screening pathway of the Diabetic RetinaScreen programme.

  After the meeting the Chair of the Committee wrote to me advising that ADA-SCID should be added to the National Newborn Bloodspot Screening Programme.  I have accepted the recommendation and advised the HSE of this decision.  The HSE will now make the necessary arrangements for the inclusion of this condition in the list of conditions screened for as part of the Programme. 

  Any future potential changes to the National Newborn Bloodspot Screening Programme will be incorporated as part of the Committee's work programme.

  Updates in relation to the work of the Committee will be posted on the NSAC website  available at https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/nsac/.

  I am strongly committed to identifying any opportunities that exist in this area and to their implementation.

  Question No. 136 answered with Question No. 129.

Disability Services Funding

 137. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Information on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Zoom on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly if there is a fund available to finance long-term care for a person (details supplied) with an intellectual disability in a facility in the UK in which residents of the facility from countries outside the UK require funding from their Government in order to be resident; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24303/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly The Government is committed to providing services and supports for people with disabilities which will empower them to live independent lives, provide greater independence in accessing the services they choose, and enhance their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs and plan their lives.   

  As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Covid-19 Tests

 138. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Information on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Zoom on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Health Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly his views on the urgent need for same-day Covid-19 testing for teachers to enable schools to remain and to allow for the continuity of care for children by teachers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24350/20]

Minister for Health (Deputy Stephen Donnelly): Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly A comprehensive, reliable and responsive testing and tracing operation is central to our public health strategy for containing and slowing the spread of COVID-19. The HSE has worked intensively since the start of the pandemic to put this in place and I would again like to acknowledge the huge work undertaken in this regard across the HSE. 

Capacity has been in place since early summer to test 15,000 people a day/100,000 people per week. The testing and contact tracing operational and resource model has been designed to flex up and down as needed.  In recent weeks we have needed to flex it up significantly as demand has increased. We are testing more people than ever before, with over 71,000 tests completed in the week ending 12th September. The HSE has deployed additional resources to meet this level of demand, including the opening of additional community testing centres and mobile pop-up testing units, significantly increased contact tracing teams and increased laboratory testing.  

We had seen improvements in turnaround times over the week ending 7th September.  85% of GP referrals received an appointment the same day or the next day - the median being 0.9 days. The median time from swab to lab result was 29 hours, now down to 26 hours in the last few days. In total, the median end-to-end turnaround time for negative tests in the community setting ranged from 2.0-2.1 days while median end-to-end turnaround time from referral to communication of a positive result was 2.3-2.8 days. I do acknowledge that the system has come under strain in recent weeks, with a very significant increase in demand experience last week which resulted in some delays. There was a record of 13,000 referrals to community testing on Monday last week alone, and demand remained high for the week and into this week. As outlined above, additional capacity has been brought on stream quickly to meet this demand.  

It is critical that parents and teachers continue to contact their GP if they or their child has any of the symptoms of COVID-19. The impact that the requirement to restrict movements has while waiting for a test and a test result is understood. But it is essential to prevent any further transmission of the virus, protecting other children and teachers in school and the community more generally. 

More generally, the HSE is now finalising a future service model for testing and tracing. This service model will aim to deliver a patient-centred, accessible, consistent and flexible service.  This plan includes the recruitment of a permanent workforce which has already commenced, and a range of other service improvements which will be rolled out over the coming weeks to ensure that people can access a test quickly and get their result quickly. Transition to the new model is underway and will continue through the Autumn.


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