Thursday, 29 April 2021
Covid-19, Mental Health and Older People: Statements
I thank Members for their valuable contributions and will reflect closely on all statements relating to mental health and older people. Many of the issues highlighted are already being addressed through programme for Government commitments, our national policies and strategies and the HSE national service plan. We have achieved much in recent years through new developments and improvements to existing services. We are fully committed to a broad programme of reform to enhance both mental health and older people’s services into the future.
I will try to answer some of the questions raised. As the Acting Chairman will be aware, some Members decide to make statements and ask quite a lot of questions, so it is difficult to come back in. Deputy Kelly raised the issue of the vaccination of those aged over 60. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as well as the AstraZeneca vaccine, will be available to those aged over 60 and those aged over 50. Deputy Kelly stated that he was concerned that those aged 50 to 59 may receive a vaccine before those aged 60 to 69. It all depends on supply and delivery.
Deputy Cairns made several statements. She stated that home care was suspended for many people. It is fair to say that while 2,846 home care packages were suspended, 2,446 of those suspensions were requested by the clients or their families as they did not want a person coming into their house during Covid. It is only fair to put that on the record. An additional €150 million was allocated, resulting in 500 million extra home care support hours being in place at the moment. Some Members may remember that I raised this issue constantly in the previous Dáil. I am delighted that we are able to put in place 23 million home care supports, which is really important.
Deputy Cairns also raised the issue of the dementia budget.
That issue was close to my heart in the previous Dáil. I worked with Senator Colette Kelleher at the time. We co-chaired the all-party Oireachtas group on dementia. For the first time in the history of the State, €12.9 million was allocated for dementia services this year. By the end of this year, we will have 29 dementia advisers. It is only a short couple of years ago that we had only eight dementia advisers in the whole country. By the end of this year, we will have 29 of them. There will be a dementia adviser in every county, which is great to see, and more than one in some big counties.
Deputies Cahill and Martin Browne raised the issue of Jigsaw. Jigsaw has been in touch with stakeholders in the local areas and has confirmed a date for referrals once building works are confirmed.
A question was raised on mental health acute beds in the Tipperary area. As I said previously, there will be a review of mental health bed capacity throughout the country and its recommendations will be put in place.
Deputy Denis Naughten made a few points on specific issues related to mandatory hotel quarantine. I am not in a position to answer his questions, especially those relating to individual cases. The Deputy also raised the issue of the housebound and those receiving vaccines. He stated during the week that there seemed to be a discrepancy in the figures, as 600 people who were on the list no longer seemed to be on it. More than 3,500 referrals have been received. GPs refer to the HSE certain patients who they believe are housebound and would like the vaccine. As part of the housebound programme, to date 1,800 people have received the first dose and 500 people have received the second dose of the vaccine. The HSE is currently contacting everybody on the list who has requested a vaccine.
Last week, Deputy Naughten expressed criticism that the ambulance service was reaching people who are housebound fast enough. We have decided to double the number of ambulances visiting people at home. The vehicles are not ambulances but ambulance jeeps. These ambulance jeeps will continue to go to people's homes to allow people to be vaccinated. It is hard to win in this instance. Last week, we were criticised for not having enough ambulances; this week, I am criticised because we have too many ambulances. My priority is to make sure that every elderly person who requires a vaccine will get one in a timely manner and no older person will be left behind. The most important message today is that anyone who wants a vaccine will receive it in a timely manner.
I thank the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach for his time and patience. I thank colleagues and Members of both Houses for their continued support and suggestions for improving our mental health and older persons services. By working together, identifying problems and, most important, providing solutions, we can and will improve our services.
I welcome the news that the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and her husband Paul had a baby today. We have broken the glass ceiling. The Minister is the first Minister in the history of the State to have a baby while serving in office and the first to be able to take maternity leave. I hope she and her husband are happy. I know everybody wishes to congratulate the Minister on the arrival of her new baby.