Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Covid-19, Mental Health and Older People: Statements


10:50 am

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I also add my congratulations to the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and her family on the birth of her baby this morning.

I want to talk about isolation and to put two issues to the Minister of State. Since the restrictions came into effect last year, for many older people, particularly those in rural areas, their existing sense of isolation has increased, and their mental health has suffered. Some of them are suffering in silence. For some, their only contact with the outside world in the past year has been HSE workers, home helps or the volunteers who have dedicated themselves to bring medication and groceries to them. Those volunteers have spoken about how some older people who live with isolation in rural areas every day are less likely to present with any mental health issues they may have. There is a real danger that this will not just be an issue during this pandemic but may become a habit that will be hard to break. If they were to seek help, where would they go?

I was involved in a survey which showed that 40% of respondents believed that a lack of available mental health services was the main obstacle in seeking support for mental health problems. A further 38% believed that the lack of information was a contributory factor, while 23% said it was because of a difficulty in travelling. What is the Minister of State doing to address rural isolation and to reach those who feel they cannot reach out?

I also want to hear the Minister of State's thoughts on the following matters. The Government used the Covid crisis as an opportunity to close St. Brigid's in Carrick-on-Suir, which provided palliative respite care for people in the local community. In March 2020, it was designated as a step-down unit for recovering Covid-19 patients in south Tipperary, but that was a pretext for closure. We have since been given flimsy reasons as to why it should not reopen. Elderly and infirm people who are at their most vulnerable now face the prospect of no longer being able to stay within their community as they once could. What impact is that having on their mental health and that of their families?

At the other end of the county, in Roscrea, long-stay beds will no longer be available in the Dean Maxwell facility. Instead the HSE wants people to start travelling to Nenagh. At a meeting on the matter with the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, local Deputies were told that this was part of the HSE's plan to improve care in the community. How on earth can moving someone, who is at their most vulnerable, out of their own locality to somewhere where they have no family be seen as care within the community, especially at a time when there are limitations on how far people can travel?

I also seek an update on the Jigsaw centre for Thurles and the hubs in Nenagh and Clonmel. Services online have been suggested, but they do not work which comes across when talking to people. Will the Minister of State admit that the policy is more damaging than progressive? Our older people are being failed here. They have fallen victim to a campaign of centralisation that the Department of Health and the HSE seem intent on pursuing. This shows little regard for the mental well-being of older and infirm people, who need specific care and who would like to spend their days near the people they love. This disastrous policy must stop immediately, or we will be facing a situation where families become fractured, the elderly will become isolated from the people and places they know, and their sense of togetherness will be irreparably damaged. We must learn from Covid and we must learn about isolation.


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