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Covid-19, Mental Health and Older People: Statements (Continued)

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1006 No. 3

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Deputy Mark Ward: Information on Mark Ward Zoom on Mark Ward To return to the issue of eating disorders, will the Minister of State commit to examining the use of surge capacity in private mental healthcare on an interim basis while the Department is getting its ducks in a row in respect of all the other services that are coming down the road? That would be really welcome. Mothers and fathers have told me they are watching their adult children die in front of them. If something could be done, it would be fantastic.

On the crisis de-escalation service, I attended a meeting of the Sub-Committee on Mental Health last week. A member of the Garda Síochána has stated that a pilot scheme of the service is to be introduced in Limerick soon. I do not want to eat into my colleagues' time, so will the Minister of State correspond with me on the issue after the debate?

Deputy Patricia Ryan: Information on Patricia  Ryan Zoom on Patricia  Ryan I have had a number of meetings in recent weeks with groups representing older people, including a round table discussion on the mental health of older people in particular. All the groups raised the issue of funding, not just in regard to the amount available but also the consistency and reliability of funding. The lack of multi-annual funding is a major obstacle to their planning. When will we be in a position to commit multi-annual funding for these groups? The groups also raised the issue of the significant degree of red tape that their organisations have to navigate to achieve even small sums of funding. I am all for accountability but there is too much red tape for small pockets of money. We need to make the process easier for repeat applicants who have had prior approval. These groups are saving lives. One older person told me their self-isolation during Covid was spent looking out the window, waiting to die. The groups have given older people some hope and a reason to live. Will the Minister of State commit that something will be done about the red tape for repeat applicants please?

Another issue that arose was that of housing for older people. I know from personal experience that when someone's housing circumstances are precarious, his or her mental health will suffer. I commend my colleagues Councillor Aidan Mullins in Laois and Councillor Noel Connolly in Kildare on recent motions they brought to their respective councils relating to housing for older people. The Government needs to do more to provide suitable homes for older people. Will the Minister of State support or bring forward proposals to deal with the provision of housing for older people?

On the final issue, the completion of works on the Monasterevin day care centre, the Minister of State might be able to find out the answer or she might already know it herself. The works are well overdue are and much needed for the town where I live. The centre will be fantastic for the community. Could we get some answers on that please?

Deputy Mary Butler: Information on Mary Butler Zoom on Mary Butler I thank Deputy Patricia Ryan for her continued interest in older people. On the first question, on mental health supports for older people, there are 1,000 mental health organisations throughout the country. We work closely with many such NGOs and fund them to provide supports for us. Nevertheless, it will always be the case that funding is made available at different times. We have to ensure that anybody who applies for funding ticks the boxes because this is taxpayers' money. There are so many different organisations and we want to avoid a duplication of services in different areas. I will take on board the Deputy's comments on the red tape in the case of organisations that apply every year.

On housing for older people, I had a meeting on the issue only a couple of weeks ago with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, while the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, has met the Minister at that Department, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. There are considerable opportunities to provide suitable housing for older people. Many older people's families have grown up and there might be one older person living in perhaps a three-bedroom semi-detached home. If such people had the opportunity to downsize to a small ground-floor home with the correct wraparound supports, they would give that consideration. I agree we definitely need to move on that.

I will have to get the Deputy a written response on the Monasterevin day care centre.

Deputy Patricia Ryan: Information on Patricia  Ryan Zoom on Patricia  Ryan I am very concerned about older people who live on their own, and there is a big issue with single men, in particular, getting housed. Perhaps something could be done in that regard for elderly men.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I am happy we are dealing with this issue today. It is quite timely, on the day that is in it and also because of the volume of older people who have been vaccinated. I will run through a few issues and, as I have little time, the Minister of State might respond to me separately. I have direct experience of this issue, with very elderly parents in their 80s. The past year and a half has been the worst of their lives, although they have been through tough times in the past. My mother, who is my hero, turned 80 last March but, obviously, could not celebrate that. A few weeks later, she was meant to complete her 15th year in a row working at the orphanages in Belarus but, obviously, that did not materialise.

I had the misfortune to lose my mother-in-law suddenly a few months ago - not from Covid but suddenly. I always remember what she said to me. We were messing with her about her 80th birthday approaching, and she said she would not celebrate it until the time was right because she felt she was really only 79 years old because the previous year had not counted. That is a summary of how many elderly people feel because the past year has been so difficult and did not count.

We talk an awful lot in this country about catch-up programmes for this, that and the other. We need some such programme for the elderly towards the end of this year to reignite social interactions, to celebrate what they have come through and to plot a way forward for reintegration or resocialisation. I do not even know how we will do it but I know we have to, and I will work with the Minister of State on that. We should set aside a month, perhaps December or January, in which we put in place a programme that all communities and society work towards. It will bring together elderly people and reignite all they do, with opportunities in communities. Sporting and community organisations can help out. It will almost be a restart. I hope the Minister of State will support that because it is critical. I echo what the CEO of Alone, Seán Moynihan, has said about setting up a high-level, cross-society group to devise a new strategy for older people. In advance of that, I do not think it would be beyond the bounds of possibility in this House to come up with a strategy for one month to reignite how elderly people can interact in society. They have lost so much.

Communities have helped. I come from the little village of Portroe, where the local shop and the Gleeson family have been amazing. The shop has been almost a social outlet, delivering food to people and helping them out. A local publican, James Seymour, is doing the same and visiting people because he has spare time. All communities have helped elderly people throughout all this but collectively, we need to ensure there will be a period in which we put forward a plan to reintegrate and restimulate the elderly.

I raise the issue of those who are over the age of 60, in the context of the vaccine roll-out. I am concerned that 220,000 people in the 60 to 69 age group, who are not old but are going in that direction, have not registered for vaccination. How will we ensure they do so? It is a huge number, and while it will decrease all the time, there is obviously a quantity of people who are not going to register for some reason. I do not know why that is but we need to do something about it because it is a real issue.

Over-70s are getting the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, with the second jabs in four weeks, while over-50s are going to get the Janssen vaccine, so they will be vaccinated. In between, the 60 to 69 group are getting the AstraZeneca vaccine, with a 12-week gap between doses, and we all know there is a plan for a green certificate to enable travel. The group in their 50s and the plus-70s, therefore, will be able to travel, but the group in their 60s will not.

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