Thursday, 29 April 2021
Covid-19, Mental Health and Older People: Statements
I am happy we are dealing with this issue today. It is quite timely, on the day that is in it and also because of the volume of older people who have been vaccinated. I will run through a few issues and, as I have little time, the Minister of State might respond to me separately. I have direct experience of this issue, with very elderly parents in their 80s. The past year and a half has been the worst of their lives, although they have been through tough times in the past. My mother, who is my hero, turned 80 last March but, obviously, could not celebrate that. A few weeks later, she was meant to complete her 15th year in a row working at the orphanages in Belarus but, obviously, that did not materialise.
I had the misfortune to lose my mother-in-law suddenly a few months ago - not from Covid but suddenly. I always remember what she said to me. We were messing with her about her 80th birthday approaching, and she said she would not celebrate it until the time was right because she felt she was really only 79 years old because the previous year had not counted. That is a summary of how many elderly people feel because the past year has been so difficult and did not count.
We talk an awful lot in this country about catch-up programmes for this, that and the other. We need some such programme for the elderly towards the end of this year to reignite social interactions, to celebrate what they have come through and to plot a way forward for reintegration or resocialisation. I do not even know how we will do it but I know we have to, and I will work with the Minister of State on that. We should set aside a month, perhaps December or January, in which we put in place a programme that all communities and society work towards. It will bring together elderly people and reignite all they do, with opportunities in communities. Sporting and community organisations can help out. It will almost be a restart. I hope the Minister of State will support that because it is critical. I echo what the CEO of Alone, Seán Moynihan, has said about setting up a high-level, cross-society group to devise a new strategy for older people. In advance of that, I do not think it would be beyond the bounds of possibility in this House to come up with a strategy for one month to reignite how elderly people can interact in society. They have lost so much.
Communities have helped. I come from the little village of Portroe, where the local shop and the Gleeson family have been amazing. The shop has been almost a social outlet, delivering food to people and helping them out. A local publican, James Seymour, is doing the same and visiting people because he has spare time. All communities have helped elderly people throughout all this but collectively, we need to ensure there will be a period in which we put forward a plan to reintegrate and restimulate the elderly.
I raise the issue of those who are over the age of 60, in the context of the vaccine roll-out. I am concerned that 220,000 people in the 60 to 69 age group, who are not old but are going in that direction, have not registered for vaccination. How will we ensure they do so? It is a huge number, and while it will decrease all the time, there is obviously a quantity of people who are not going to register for some reason. I do not know why that is but we need to do something about it because it is a real issue.
Over-70s are getting the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, with the second jabs in four weeks, while over-50s are going to get the Janssen vaccine, so they will be vaccinated. In between, the 60 to 69 group are getting the AstraZeneca vaccine, with a 12-week gap between doses, and we all know there is a plan for a green certificate to enable travel. The group in their 50s and the plus-70s, therefore, will be able to travel, but the group in their 60s will not.
Other conditions may be introduced as this is rolled out. It may not be anyone's fault but it is an issue. It is discriminatory. How are we going to deal with that and ensure that this cohort is treated fairly?