Thursday, 29 April 2021
Covid-19, Mental Health and Older People: Statements
I thank the Minister of State for her opening speech and for her honesty.
We can sometimes have a fairly heated debate in here, but when progress of any kind is made it must be welcomed.
It would be remiss of me not to congratulate the Minister without Portfolio, Deputy McEntee, on the birth of her baby boy this morning.
I wish to touch on the surge capacity requirements in mental health hospitals and the €13.5 million in additional funding that will be allocated for that purpose. I welcome that funding. I also welcome that the CAMHS investigation is going ahead.
There were WikiLeaks. Now there are "Aire-leaks" when it comes to good news on coming out of lockdown.
There are still families in desperate trouble. I spoke to two yesterday and asked them for permission to use their cases to highlight the isolation caused by Covid. Families are in desperate need, older people have never been so isolated, which has a knock-on effect, and people with disabilities have practically been written off.
I wish to raise a specific case. Obviously, I have edited it. Mrs. X has been a carer for her 81-year-old mother for a number of years. She also has a brother in his 50s who was in appropriate day care for five days per week, but when Covid arrived, that service closed down. She took it upon herself to assume caring responsibilities for him as well. After a number of months, she wrote to the Department - she was inquiring more than anything else - to see whether she would be entitled to additional financial or physical supports. Unfortunately, the Department wrote back and docked €34 per week from her payment for looking after her mother. The Ministers of State can imagine the stress that can cause for people who are at the pin of their collar trying to do the best they can.
A second case involves a family of a child with severe autism. Since Covid started, the family has received no respite care, speech and language therapy or just about any other support. They are taking it in shifts. The husband normally gets three hours of sleep per night. When I spoke to him, I said that we could bring their case directly to a Minister. He said that what was happening was not fair and that, as a principle, people in such circumstances – he knows many families in the same situation or worse – should be treated fairly. He wanted me to bring that point to the floor today. He also told me that, last weekend, he met a couple of his friends who were in a similar situation and that, although they started the conversation, they had to stop because it was so depressing. Unfortunately, some parents in this situation were not strong enough and took their own lives. The pressures are enormous. He told me that he and his friends were still here to help where others had found it too much and had taken their own lives because they could not cope. He told me that that was the conversation he and his friends had and that they had to stop because it was getting so depressing. Those were his words, not mine.
I welcome any progress in mental health services, but let us not forget anyone. We must remember that, when we come out of Covid, we will still have a health problem, a mental health problem, a housing problem, people losing their jobs and a problem with disability services. Let us plan for the future.