Thursday, 29 April 2021
Covid-19, Mental Health and Older People: Statements
I do not expect the Airí Stáit to be able to give me a response to my questions today but I would appreciate if someone would come back to me with a detailed response after this debate. What sometimes happens is that commitments are given in the House that we will get replies but no such replies are forthcoming. I have three specific issues I want to raise, two of which, sadly, relate to bureaucracy.
First, patients who are undergoing hospital procedures must have a negative Covid test in advance of going into hospital. That is completely understandable. However, in some instances, hospitals are not accepting a negative PCR test result from the HSE's community testing service. Instead, patients are being asked to make a preliminary journey into the acute hospital for a pre-Covid test, which exposes those hospitals to additional and unnecessary risk in regard to Covid infection.
I have already raised this with some hospital managers. The justification is that the computer systems are not talking to each other. Since the test carried out in the community by the HSE is not accessible by the hospital, the hospital is insisting on a separate test being carried out. Hospitals will not accept the text message that comes back from the HSE. This is a procedural bureaucratic issue that is putting additional hardship on patients in advance of going in for a hospital procedure. It is exposing our acute hospitals to unnecessary and additional risk in the context of Covid-19 infection. I want to see this issue addressed.
I have another comment on the issue of bureaucracy. On 21 April, the Minister for Health replied to Parliamentary Question No. 2083 with a the list of vaccines that would mean people who are fully vaccinated have an exemption from mandatory hotel quarantine. Included in that list is the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. If a person has it in advance of coming into the country, then 15 days after the second dose the person is exempt from mandatory hotel quarantine. Nowhere in the reply to which I refer is there a reference to where the vaccine is manufactured. It is only when we get into the detail that we find out. The Department of Foreign Affairs has informed an Irish citizen that four versions of European Medicines Agency approved vaccines are manufactured under licence by other companies and that these do not qualify for exemption in the context of the mandatory quarantine. We are saying that these vaccines are good enough to be used in this country to inoculate people. However, versions that are manufactured in facilities elsewhere will not be accepted for the purposes of mandatory quarantine. For example, the manufacture of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the Serum Institute will not be accepted as exempt in the context of mandatory quarantine, even though anyone inoculated with it is considered fully vaccinated against Covid-19. As a result of the location in which the vaccine is manufactured, it is not being accepted. That needs to be changed in the context of mandatory quarantine.
There is a third issue I want to raise. On Friday night last, a constituent of mine who was in mandatory quarantine was in unbearable pain. The person contacted reception at the quarantine facility seeking medical help. A nurse called to the room but told the person she would be unable to issue any medicine, including paracetamol. The person was informed that a nurse would call the following morning to facilitate the ordering of pain relief. Eventually, after contacting reception again on Saturday morning, the medicine was ordered at 2 p.m. It was only after further calls to reception seeking the assistance of a doctor that the medicine arrived at 9.40 p.m. That was 24 hours after the person first reported being in unbearable pain. No doctor ever arrived and no vital signs were checked. The person was told that the nurse would be back later that night to check the vital signs. It is 110 hours since the commitment was given but no doctor has arrived and no vital signs have been checked. What medical service is available to people who are being quarantined? The constituent in question came here from quarantine in New Zealand, where they were checked on every day by nursing staff. The person's temperature was checked every day. Yet, this person could not access paracetamol or get access to a doctor in quarantine here and their vital signs were not checked. There is something wrong with the system.
There is a final point that I would like to bring to the attention of the Government. It relates to the trauma report approved this week by Cabinet designating the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital as the major trauma centre in this country, something I very much welcome. However, there is a fundamental issue here. How do we get patients to the trauma centres in the Mater Hospital or in Cork? We have not been investing in our ambulance service. The Minister of State, Deputy Butler, has already said that ten ambulances are involved in the vaccination of the housebound. That number is being doubled to 20. This means 20 ambulances are being taken off our roads. We do not have an effective air ambulance service. We are centralising the trauma services but not figuring out how we are going to get ill patients into those hospitals.