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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly] Other conditions may be introduced as this is rolled out. It may not be anyone's fault but it is an issue. It is discriminatory. How are we going to deal with that and ensure that this cohort is treated fairly?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Moving back to the Government, there are a number of speakers. Will Deputy Murnane O'Connor let me know the breakdown between speakers?

Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor We will each take three minutes. I am sure Deputy Cathal Crowe will be here shortly. I thank the Minister of State. First, I congratulate the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and her husband, Paul, on the birth of their baby son this morning. That is really good and I congratulate both of them.

Today gives us great hope. Restrictions on inter-county travel, masses, hospitality, click-and-collect services, barbers and hairdressers are to be loosened soon. This is really positive. For people's mental health, it is important that we now look forward. From listening to the radio as I drove here this morning, things seem to be really positive. It is to be hoped that the Taoiseach will announce all these measures this evening. I also welcome the fact that, from next Tuesday, families will be able to schedule four visits to a nursing home per week.

People's mental health has been significantly impacted by this pandemic. As the number of people vaccinated increases, are we going to see the reopening of day services in the mental health sector? There have been virtual sessions and some one-to-one visits but it is very important to get back to services in person. I commend Alone, its staff and volunteers and those who operate its national support line, which was set up in collaboration with the Department and the HSE. Alone reports that, in the past year, the helpline has received 49,000 calls and that the service has made more than 138,000 phone calls to older people who needed support. Alone highlights the negative impacts of this pandemic on the mental and physical health of older people. It has called for a stakeholder group of older adults to inform the Government on ways to support older people now as we have supported them during the pandemic. Is this something into which the Minister of State is looking?

As we cautiously reopen - and I know we have to be very cautious - what are we doing to support those older people who report continued anxiety? When will the messaging tell them that they are safe? Many community services for older people are still closed and, in some cases, home care has been stopped while families have been unable to visit because of continued restrictions. The Minister of State spoke about day services. I welcome that but what is the roadmap? What campaign are we to run or what information is to be provided? Communication is key. Perhaps the Minister of State can come back to me with some answers.

Deputy Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I thank the Minister of State for her presentation. I join with my colleague in congratulating the Deputy McEntee and her husband, Paul, on the birth of their son this morning.

I will raise my concern about the number of people who are bed bound. I was given figures at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health three weeks ago which indicated that 1,600 bed bound people had received vaccination and that a further 300 were awaiting vaccination. Those figures seem to be totally incorrect. How did we arrive at those misinformed figures? We are now talking about 3,500 people. Surely the HSE should have had a serious idea of what it was expecting in this area. Even if the figure of 3,500 the Minister of State has mentioned is correct, we should be given a detailed statement as to why this earlier figure was so out of synch with what was really happening on the ground.

I published the Health (Amendment) (Professional Home Care) Bill 2020 last July. It was debate in the Dáil in September but the Second Reading was adjourned for 12 months. I understand that proposals were made to Cabinet in the last week as regards how we intend to register those who provide home care. Will the Minister of State provide a detailed update in writing at to how we intend to progress on this issue? This ties in the with the issue I raised earlier, the need for a really comprehensive set of guidelines, rules and information with regard to the provision of home care, because the number of people who require home care will continue to increase.

The final issue I will raise relates to ophthalmology and cataract services, especially in the southern region. In excess of €10 million has now been made available for outpatient facilities in the South Infirmary-Victoria University Hospital and a new theatre. There will, however, be a waiting period. What additional work can be done to help those who are on the waiting list? My understanding is that those who are on the waiting list will wait a maximum of a six months but there is the matter of getting on the waiting list. How can we assist the professionals providing this service, the nurses and doctors, and ensure that people can get on the waiting list in a timely manner rather than having to wait two or three years? Will the Minister of State provide an update on that issue?

Deputy Mary Butler: Information on Mary Butler Zoom on Mary Butler I will respond as briefly as I can. With regard to the housebound, the figures provided are the same as those I was given last week. The reason there have been more referrals than the Deputy had heard about three weeks ago is that we left it open to GPs to continue referring people. I assume that some older people initially decided that they did not want the vaccine but later decided that they did. As of last night, the number of referrals stood at 3,500.

Deputy Cathal Crowe: Information on Cathal Crowe Zoom on Cathal Crowe I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, for her engagement over recent days. Last week, in this Chamber, I told her the sad story of Margaret Morgan, who is 101 years of age and probably one of the oldest citizens in County Clare. She comes from the small west Clare village of Kilmurry McMahon. She had not received her Covid vaccination. She is bed bound. The Minister of State was very engaged, both in the Chamber and afterwards, and told me that the capacity of the National Ambulance Service to call out to such households had been doubled. The number of families with members in this situation is being whittled down but those that remain want to know whether there is a portal through which they can track how the vaccination of their loved one, their elderly family member, is going. That is my first question.

I hope there will be time for both Ministers of State, Deputy Butler and Deputy Feighan, to respond to my second question. It relates to the black cloud which Covid will inevitably leave behind. I refer to immeasurable damage Covid will have done to society, beyond its impacts on physical health. I am speaking about depression and alcohol dependency. Some people who were on the dry for many years are now reverting to alcoholism. I am also speaking about domestic violence and the dark places to which some people have gone because they have been cut off from social interaction and kept apart from their families and work colleagues. Over recent days, we have seen the Revised Estimate for the Department of Health. A tremendous amount of money is going into protecting the physical health of the country. Will the Ministers of State briefly detail any roadmap or plan that exists to boost or give a shot of adrenaline to the mental health services and addiction support services of our country when we get beyond the period in which the incidence of Covid is high?

Deputy Mary Butler: Information on Mary Butler Zoom on Mary Butler I thank all three Deputies for their constructive approach. To refer back to Deputy Murnane O'Connor's comments, although all three Deputies raised their concerns about older people and day care centres, I am particularly anxious to see the likes of the men's sheds, women's groups and active retirement groups back open. We are actively looking at that at the moment. I met with Seán Moynihan, the CEO of Alone, last week. Alone has done fabulous work. We are very conscious of the loneliness task force and supports for older people.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Frankie Feighan): Information on Frankie Feighan Zoom on Frankie Feighan In response to Deputy Cathal Crowe, we are very aware of the mental health issues and other related issues Covid-19 has caused for many families. That is why we brought in the Keep Well campaign, which is about keeping active. There are many issues we need to address. As the Deputy has rightly said, alcohol has been an issue. We welcome the fact that, over the last year, there has been a 6% reduction in the intake of alcohol, although that is a bit concerning because the retail premises, pubs, restaurants and so on, were closed. We hope to progress that.

Deputy Pat Buckley: Information on Pat Buckley Zoom on Pat Buckley I thank the Minister of State for her opening speech and for her honesty.

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