Thursday, 18 February 2021
Covid-19 (Drug and Alcohol Services, and Homelessness): Statements
Frank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Homelessness falls under the remit of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, but the Department of Health and the HSE are responsible for the delivery of a range of health-related services and supports for the homeless. Under health legislation, and the Health Act 1953 in particular, the HSE has a statutory obligation towards homeless persons. This is understood to mean that it has a responsibility in respect of the homeless.
Together with the Minister for Health, I met with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, to agree how dedicated funding and resources can be provided to deliver the necessary health and mental supports required to assist homeless people with complex needs. Within my remit as Minister of State at the Department of Health, I have made the health needs of homeless persons a key priority.
As the Deputy rightly stated, there are addiction and mental health issues among young people. This is a matter of particular concern to me.
In respect of the vaccination of vulnerable and homeless people, I have engaged with those rolling out the vaccination programme, to ensure that people with addiction issues, the homeless and marginalised are included in the priority groups. I have also highlighted that those who attend addiction services, live in homeless accommodation or are regarded as vulnerable, should fall under certain groups. The Deputy is absolutely correct. We cannot be complacent about the on-paper prioritisation of these vulnerable groups, because there may be unintended barriers to equal access to the vaccines. These barriers could include difficulties in attending designated vaccination centres, a lack of contact with and trust in the health services, vaccine hesitancy due to lack of information and low levels of literacy or language barriers. I am aware of those issues. The vaccination table is a living document. The vaccinations will be taking place over weeks and months and NIAC, NPHET and the HSE will be looking at various cohorts who have not been left out, as such, but where there may be a need to see what criteria they fit into. I thank the Deputy for raising that issue.