News & Media

Smith questions Health Minister on Covid-19 related issues

30 April 2020

Speech by Duncan Smith TD
Party Whip and Spokesperson on Climate Action, Communications Networks and Transport.

I would like to pass on my our sincere condolences to all the families who have lost loved ones to COVID 19 since this House last met a week ago. The crisis continues and the sadness mounts as we continue to battle against this appalling virus.

 

Transparency

We support the work you are doing with the HSE CEO, CMO and NPHET to tackle this crisis however ss you are aware Minister, we have been raising serious questions regarding the transparency of decision making of NPHET and the Health department for several weeks.

We welcome today the publication of the Minutes from NPHET meetings in April. We hope such minutes and records will be delivered in a more timely manner in the weeks ahead. Our leader Alan Kelly outlined further concerns in relation to NPHET and how members are appointed to that Committee earlier this afternoon and I echo his words and his calls.  Transparency of decision making in such a time is of the upmost importance and I know you agree with that Minister.

We know NPHET is the decision-making body for the COVID 19 crisis but you Minister have overall responsibility for both COVID and for all Health matters. In that regard what measures are being put in place to manage the knock-on effects of the COVID crisis to people with non COVID illness? What are the consequences of people not turning up for appointments or the cancelling of operations?

 

How are you judging and managing that responsibility against the demands of COVID and the directives coming through NPHET?

 

Income Support for HSE Workers Who Can’t Work

Again it was raised earlier to the Taoiseach but in relation to the existing nurses pay deal, will you issue a directive under the health act so that the pay deal for nurses agreed last year will be paid in May?

We have raised to the call for a €1000 pandemic payment for health workers and for that to coincide with MayDay. Have you considered this proposal?

What plans does the minister or his department have with regards to income supports to healthcare workers who have been unable to attend work during the covid19 pandemic due to pre-existing conditions they have, which puts them in a higher risk category of further illness if they contracted the virus while at work. Has the Minister or his department worked to ensure that these members of staff have been given certainty that their service to the HSE or income will not be affected by circumstances outside of their control?

 

 

Retention of Staff Post-COVID

Does the Minister and his department have future planning preparation work done in the view of retaining the health care workers that answered their country’s call to return home to work in our health service in its greatest hour of need? These healthcare workers showed the utmost selflessness and bravery to take the decision to leave places where they had employment and security to join our HSE workers on the frontlines to fight COVID19. Can the Minister give any assurances, that these workers will have a job once we have passed the stages of pandemic reaction and moved towards returning our health service to regular business? Many workers who have been working in our HSE prior to the outbreak of COVID19 have been pushing for restoration of pay that was cut in the last recession. Does the government have any plans to ensure that not only these workers, but the returning workers, will be treated with respect and truly valued in of health service by ensuring they receive the proper pay and conditions which the workers and their unions have been calling for the duration of the last government?

 

Student Radiographers:

One thing that requires urgent repair is the failure of the Department of Health to be consistent, in the decision to approve pay, across student health professions is unacceptable. The Labour Party position on this has been constant and clear. Student radiographers currently working on the front line of our health service in the battle against COVID-19 deserve the same respect as nursing, midwifery and medical science professionals.

 

The Department of Health and HSE must recognise and respect the role student radiographers are playing every day in the battle to stop the spread of  COVID-19. We are calling on the Minister for Health to intervene, to support these essential workers and ensure all roadblocks are removed to acknowledge the hard work and efforts of these new committed health professionals who we hope go on to have a long and distinguished career inside our public health service.

 

PPE

On Wednesday the Department of Health issued a directive that all health care workers should wear face masks when working within 2 feet of a person. This policy change has implications for all health services. We hear about the acutes, residential, outreach, clinics etc however it has wider implications.

 

This direction means that ALL home helps must have access to face masks at all times. A lot of these agencies are struggling during this crisis with many losing staff all the time. They are continuing to offer support to priority patients in the community ( all unnecessary calls as per national direction were stopped) . The home help agencies were struggling financially as well as keeping their staff safe buying ppe etc. It needs to be recognised that not all home help agencies are private enterprises ( so they don’t have a pool of money to draw on) every Community Healthcare Organisation in the country has not for profit home help organizations under their umbrella- often set up by well meaning former healthcare workers wanting to help their local communities.

 

Now the agencies have to source face masks themselves or wait in line for the HSE to offer same if or when resources allow. GP surgeries and nursing homes can purchase face masks in Musgraves and are not liable for VAT - home help agencies need to be included in this exemption ASAP. If home support agencies aren’t given assistance it will absolutely mean an increase in hospital admissions due to non Covid related reasons.

The numbers of older people currently supported by home support agencies are phenomenal - issue needs to be addressed early next week or the knock-on effect will be catastrophic.

 

We are hearing that the Insurance company for almost all home support agencies in the country they have issued advice that if the health care workers don’t have ppe such as face masks the has agency is not insured

 

Can you comment on this and provide some confirm to this sector?

 

Screening

In relation to screening: Cervical check has been suspended since the end of February/start of March. This was initially to allow for the switch to HPV testing in April. Unfortunately we haven’t seen when HPV testing will be introduced. Women need certainty when it comes to essential screening services. When will this come back on stream?

 

Dentists

We still have no plan for Dentistry Minister. Dentists have been crying out for PPE in order for them to return to work. There has been direction from the CDO in terms of emergency dental work but there is also serious dental work and indeed routine dental work that is important. Speaking in a personal capacity I have a complex dental history which requires regular routine visits. In the absence of routine visits we are potentially storing up serious and emergency dental problems in the not too distant future. We have already seen the “stark” protests of Dentists in France….and again speaking in a personal capacity, I don’t want to have to see my own dentist take part in a similar protest for basic PPE gear.

 

Direct Provision

Minister have we seen any developments of clusters in Direct Provision centres and other vulnerable settings such as Prisons?. I received a long and detailed response from Minister Flanagan in relation to the measures his Department have put in place in conjunction with local authorities, the HSE and approved housing bodies. Are these measures working? How often are you received reports in relation to Direct Provision centres?

 

Masks

Minister, we need direction in relation to mask wearing in public. Up until recently there has been contested medical advice on the utility of wearing masks in public for controlling this virus. It seems now pretty clear that wearing masks in public places, such as supermarkets or on the bus, will be part of the long-term solution to the COVID emergency. Can you provide any clarity on that Minister? Will we have sufficient supply for the public when we still have concerns about supply for frontline health workers, nursing home workers, dentists, home care workers and carers.

How do we get there Minister? Is there a plan and can you provide any detail of same?