Dáil debates

Thursday, 23 April 2020

4:20 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance) | Oireachtas source

I am sharing time with Deputy Barry.

I welcome the fact that the Minister said the economic strategy should be led in the first instance by public health concerns but those words have to have meaning. They cannot just be a rhetorical commitment to putting public health first. In the immediate term, putting public health first means we have to have the resources to ramp up dramatically the testing and tracing regime. That will mean permanent increases in laboratory capacity, laboratory technicians and all the equipment and investment that is necessary to have a testing and tracing regime of the scale necessary to have some chance of moving back to normality. It cannot be temporary; it has to be permanent. That requires a lot of investment and there has to be a clear commitment to it. Professor Samuel McConkey said the nursing homes need 20% to 30% more staff. That has to be permanent. The nursing homes were understaffed, under-equipped and under-resourced. That has to be put right, and it has to be permanent.

A friend of mine, a nurse, put herself forward for the Be on Call for Ireland initiative four weeks ago but she still has not been placed. She is willing to work in nursing homes. Why is this not happening? I would hate to think it is because the Government is being careful about how many people it recruits in case it has to keep them employed at the other end of this crisis. That would not be good enough.

The same point applies to ICU capacity. We need permanent increases, probably a doubling at a minimum. The additional ICU capacity is temporary and once we restart the rest of the health service, it could potentially be eaten up. Therefore, we need permanent increases in ICU capacity. Even to bring us up to the European level, we have to double it. A key part of that is staff, not just equipment. One has to employ and train the staff, which has to be paid for. There has to be a commitment, if we are serious about public health concerns leading this, to permanent and dramatic increases in capacity and staffing in the health service and in the resources necessary to deliver the tracing and testing regime. That means health workers have to be paid. We could not recruit them over the past year or two because we were not paying them. My nurse friend asked me why she has not been recruited. Is it partly because it is being done by Cpl, meaning there is an agency factor and reluctance to recruit people and pay them properly as permanent new members of the health service? It all seems so obvious. There has to be an integrated health service. The lesson has to be an end to the two-tier system. The Taoiseach says of the public and private sides that there is no proof one is performing any better than the other, but there is absolutely clear evidence that there is a lack of coherence, consistency and integration in our health services. That can be achieved only by having a single, integrated public health service. The clue is in the phrase "public health". Profit has to go out if we are to transition back to where we were while living alongside Covid-19 and to protect ourselves against these things in future. That is a no-brainer. To me, it is beyond doubt.

Professor Samuel McConkey pointed out, in the document he produced weeks ago, that to do as I describe, there has to be social cohesion. To have social cohesion, he says, we need widespread social trust, and to achieve social trust we need a widespread perception of social equality. To achieve a perception of social equality, we need social equality.


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