Thursday, 3 June 2021
Mental Health During and Post Covid-19: Statements
Thomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
I am sharing time with Deputy Connolly. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute today on these important statements.
Many Members may be familiar with the Charlie Mackesy image and quote:
What's the bravest thing you've ever said? asked the boy. "Help" said the horse.
The line is from the oft-shared, quoted and Covid-times best-seller, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse. Some Ministers, unfortunately, are partial to sharing these types of quotes blissfully unaware, apparently, of the actual power the Government has to expand access to mental health services.
One must have a medical card to access free counselling but since the cyberattack, people have been unable to apply for medical cards. My office has been on to the primary care reimbursement service, PCRS, regularly since the attack for updates. This week, we were informed that the emails are still down so there are limited services available. PCRS staff cannot see the status of cards and they do not have any indication of when this will be accessible again.
This morning, I mentioned this on Questions on Promised Legislation. I raised this issue with the Tánaiste and welcomed his confirmation that GPs can apply for medical cards to be renewed through their offices. The Tánaiste said though that it "is not something we particularly encourage", but admitted that these are exceptional times. The Tánaiste said he would raise the matter with the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and that a circular would be sent around to GPs to remind them. Many GPs do not even know that they can do this. It would be interesting to know whether there needs to be a communications campaign around that. GPs are overworked but we must ensure blockages in the process are cleared. My office was advised in relation to emergency medical cards that GPs can do them through their system. Medical card numbers are not issued as systems are down but one will get a confirmation phone call.
Those lucky enough to have access to counselling sessions have, in some cases, had them cancelled or moved to Zoom. Online counselling might be great if you are privileged enough to have access to the Internet and a private space to talk at home, but what about the people who do not have somewhere to go? They do not have a laptop or a room in which to speak freely. There is a free and confidential text number which is a welcome addition to mental health services, but are we looking at the data for that number and what is happening in relation to it? How many texts are coming in? Is there follow-up then for the people contacting the text line? What if that person needs to be referred on to further services?
The country went from, "We are all in this together" to finger-wagging and curtain-twitching, pushing blame on each other instead of looking back at the failures of the State to implement affordable, timely and non-judgmental supports accessible to all who need them, both in times of crisis and in times of building resilience.