Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Health): Statements
James Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
I will be sharing time with Deputies Donnelly, Butler and Murnane O'Connor. I thank the Minister. I will take five minutes, three of which I will use to ask questions, leaving two minutes for the Minister to respond. My focus will be on the mental health, disability and intellectual disability sectors. I pay tribute to all of the front-line staff working in these sectors as well as to families and carers. I also sympathise with and offer my condolences to those families who have lost loved ones since I spoke here last week.
Last week, I raised the dire warnings issued by the WHO and the UN about a looming mental health crisis and what is sometimes referred to as the third and fourth wave of a pandemic. On 23 April, I secured agreement from the Minister for the establishment of a high-level mental health task force that would include experts and patient representatives. The establishment of such a task force is essential. It is critically important to bring together experts and patient representatives who can take an overarching view of what we need in terms of mental health in dealing with the Covid crisis and the other issues in mental health over the next year, including the lack of a director of mental health. I ask the Minister to provide an update on the establishment of the mental health task force. In terms of any mental health task force, a programme for Government or anything else connected with mental health, the publication of the refreshed A Vision for Change is essential. I appreciate that it may not be normal practice for a Government in the current situation to publish a Government policy document but there is broad agreement across the House that it should be published and I ask that this be done.
Many people with disabilities, both physical and intellectual, may be cocooning for the next year or more until a vaccine is found. Day services, respite care and community supports have all effectively come to an end. Parents and family members are exhausted. I can hear the stress in the voices of the people ringing my office.
Patients are also becoming distressed due to the break in routine. If there are underlying conditions, how is the education of those with intellectual disabilities going to continue in the next year or so? What supports will be put in place in terms of minimising the community and social isolation they are going to experience for quite a time? There is also the economic impact for people with physical or intellectual disabilities who have been in the workforce. Much good progress has been made in that area but it is going to slip back. There will be regression in rehabilitation because the supports cannot be kept up to the previous level as a result of prolonged cocooning.
A cross-departmental strategy needs to be put in place because the issue is going to affect education, economic well-being, social well-being and mental health well-being, as well as physical supports. Perhaps some sort national plan needs to be put place and I would ask the Minister to comment on that.
There are more than 1,500 young people with a physical disability in nursing homes or congregated settings but these are not appropriate settings and their families are very concerned to have them in those settings. A policy needs to be put in place in regard to housing and health to get those people back into the community, so they can be taken care of and take care of themselves.