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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 Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly] I ask that the Minister of State look at the report of the Mental Health Commission and come back to me on it.

There are a number of practical issues I wish to highlight. The Ministers of State may not have time to respond on them. Last week, I raised the issue of respite service. No respite service is being provided by Merlin Park University Hospital, Galway. I do not think it is the job of the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, to respond to me on an individual case. In the end, Deputies go to the Minister with cases. However, it is his responsibility to tell the House when respite services will recommence, more than a year after the pandemic was declared. It is simply unacceptable. We are talking about mental health and carers. I do not know how they are surviving.

The next issue to which I wish to draw to the attention of the Ministers of State is the number of late discharges of those in psychiatric hospitals. I have the details of one such case but I will certainly not go into it. However, I know that case is not unique. The person in question has been in the psychiatric hospital for many years. I am not exaggerating by saying that. I followed up on it. I will probably eventually come back to the Minister on that case if I do not get anywhere with it. It involves a person who, years after admission to a psychiatric hospital, should not be in there.

I also wish to highlight the issue of wards of court. Very little progress is being made on it.

I refer to the issue raised earlier by Deputy Alan Kelly and relating to people aged between 60 and 69 and the number of vaccines not being taken up. The comments by two senior politicians regarding that group of people were absolutely shameful. Those politicians should come back and apologise. If we wish to build confidence, politicians should not be telling people in that age group that if they do not do what they are told to do, they will go to the bottom of the list. It is simply unacceptable to do so. I will leave it at that.

Deputy Marian Harkin: Information on Marian Harkin Zoom on Marian Harkin I am happy to start my contribution by wishing the very best to the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and her lovely new family.

My time is brief and I have a specific question for the Minister of State but I will first make a brief comment. I am really pleased to hear of the new investments and allocations in mental health provision. They are all very welcome. However, all Members recognise that mental health provision has been chronically underfunded for many years. The report of the Mental Health Commission on older people, which was published last year, was clear that mental health services for older people are seriously under-resourced. We do not have a comprehensive service for older people. This week, the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists warned of a tsunami of health problems facing older people.

In that context, my question relates to the Covid-19 nursing homes expert panel report. It contains 86 measures to be implemented in 12 to 18 months. The report was published nine months ago. What cost analysis has been undertaken by the HSE and the Department? Have resources been allocated to implement any of the measures?

Deputy Mary Butler: Information on Mary Butler Zoom on Mary Butler I ask the Deputy to clarify to which report she is referring. I missed that line.

Deputy Marian Harkin: Information on Marian Harkin Zoom on Marian Harkin I am referring to the report of the Covid-19 nursing homes expert panel. It was published last August and contains 86 recommendations.

Deputy Mary Butler: Information on Mary Butler Zoom on Mary Butler I thank the Deputy for that clarification and for raising the matter. I will meet the expert panel this afternoon. It was an absolute game-changer. We have the support of Nursing Homes Ireland. There are 575 nursing homes and they are all buying into this. We received short, medium and long-term recommendations and we took all 86 of them on board. The short-term recommendations have been implemented. They relate to infection prevention and control, staffing levels and avoiding the cross-over of staff between nursing homes to prevent Covid. We are currently working towards implementing the medium-term recommendations and the long-term recommendations are being costed. The work that has happened in nursing homes in the past few weeks has been phenomenal. There have not been any Covid cases in nursing homes in the past three weeks. From next Monday, 4 May, residents will be able to receive four visits in their nursing home, which is very positive.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Frankie Feighan): Information on Frankie Feighan Zoom on Frankie Feighan I thank Deputies for their contributions on such a wide-ranging topic. Several significant issues have been raised. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, for her response. I am sure she wishes to respond to as many more of the issues that were raised as possible.

The physical and mental health well-being of people has been a Government priority throughout the pandemic. The Government has funded a range of Covid-specific responses to allow specialist community and residential mental health services to remain open and operating near capacity while ensuring the safety of service users and staff, including €15 million in budget 2021 specifically to meet these challenges.

Mental health services have been particularly active in response to the pandemic and we have sought to be proactive through the cross-government well-being campaign entitled Keep Well, which has been promoting and supporting resilience and minding our physical and mental health. We are also supporting a range of telehealth and psychosocial support services which provide advice, help, reassurance and contact for people in what are very challenging times.

Within mental services, while we have acted to safeguard the well-being of the whole population, we have also targeted initiatives for priority groups. Measures include infection prevention and control measures in residential settings, the sole aim of which is to keep infection rates as low as possible and thereby save lives. In specialist community services, there has been a significant shift to online and telehealth provision to ensure that as much service delivery as possible can be maintained as safely as possible for everyone involved.

The spread of Covid-19 in communities has posed significant challenges for many areas of our services. We continue to progress through the pre-recovery phase of the Covid-19 pandemic with the planned easing of restrictions during March and April now complete. Through our collective efforts, we are keeping the virus under control as the vaccine programme is gaining momentum. It is vital that we ensure our overall approach continues to be cautious and sustainable over the immediate, medium and longer terms. However, our clear message is that the vaccine programme is a key enabler to the reopening of society and the economy. It is continuing to progress well, with more than 1 million people now having received the first dose of the vaccine and more than 1.4 million doses administered overall. Our continued focus must be to protect the most vulnerable through an efficient roll-out of the vaccination programme.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Mary Butler): Information on Mary Butler Zoom on Mary Butler I thank Members for their valuable contributions and will reflect closely on all statements relating to mental health and older people. Many of the issues highlighted are already being addressed through programme for Government commitments, our national policies and strategies and the HSE national service plan. We have achieved much in recent years through new developments and improvements to existing services. We are fully committed to a broad programme of reform to enhance both mental health and older people’s services into the future.

I will try to answer some of the questions raised. As the Acting Chairman will be aware, some Members decide to make statements and ask quite a lot of questions, so it is difficult to come back in. Deputy Kelly raised the issue of the vaccination of those aged over 60. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as well as the AstraZeneca vaccine, will be available to those aged over 60 and those aged over 50. Deputy Kelly stated that he was concerned that those aged 50 to 59 may receive a vaccine before those aged 60 to 69. It all depends on supply and delivery.

Deputy Cairns made several statements. She stated that home care was suspended for many people. It is fair to say that while 2,846 home care packages were suspended, 2,446 of those suspensions were requested by the clients or their families as they did not want a person coming into their house during Covid. It is only fair to put that on the record. An additional €150 million was allocated, resulting in 500 million extra home care support hours being in place at the moment. Some Members may remember that I raised this issue constantly in the previous Dáil. I am delighted that we are able to put in place 23 million home care supports, which is really important.

Deputy Cairns also raised the issue of the dementia budget.

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