Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Covid-19: Reframing the Challenge, Continuing our Recovery and Reconnecting: Statements


3:55 pm

Photo of Duncan SmithDuncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour) | Oireachtas source

It is good we have the opportunity to discuss this today, given what was announced earlier this week. This virus has turned the entire world, including our country, inside out and we have seen some unbelievable responses to it that are a credit to the nation and to the State, not least from our health workers at all grades, but also from our retail workers, our delivery drivers and everyone who from day one to this, the 607th day, and beyond has been at every single front line that exists in this country. It is an absolute credit to them.

A lot has been said about the announcement the other day, and I do not necessarily want to focus too much on that.

This is an opportunity to speak about what are now becoming the more systemic issues in this virus, the pandemic and our healthcare system in general.

We are at a stage now where many of our healthcare workers have been fully vaccinated for longer than six months. I will not jump into the science of the efficacy of vaccines and the waning of vaccines because the science is not agreed on it, and I am no scientist. It is prudent that our healthcare workers are included in a third vaccination booster scheme as soon as possible. The hospital cases are going up. The ICU cases are high. Given the resources that are put into ICU, I understand that ICU beds will always have high capacity. They are constant resources. We are not to be distracted either by anything that comes back on that from the HSE or from the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, because a high percentage of people who are in ICU are in there with the virus. That is a reality and therefore, we are on a precipice with ICU capacity.

It is not just a case of making sure we have more beds, we must also make sure that if we have to bring surge capacity into ICU we also have trained ICU staff for those beds. I am new to this brief and I am learning all of the time about the skills set that is needed. It is not just any nurse or any worker in the healthcare system that can be plucked from another section to work at an ICU bed. It is a specialist skill. Do we have those skill sets ready to go should we need them? I am not convinced we do. I am deeply concerned about the trend of losing healthcare workers for myriad reasons. Pay is one reason. Pay versus the high costs of rent, mortgage, living expenses is another. We need a real strategy around this. It affects all grades of healthcare workers. We cannot continue to train thousands of healthcare workers for them to go out to the Emirates to work there for a number of years. That is not a good model for our healthcare system and it is not a good investment of State money into this wonderful human resource we have here. This is the challenge. It will require difficult decisions and difficult conversations. It is the reality and we must start addressing it. It is attractive for many to go to work in a tax-free economy and come back with X amount for a deposit on a house. This is not why we built our universities and training centres with regard to healthcare staff. We want to train people to come and work in our acute hospitals, in our primary care settings and in our community care settings. This is not just about nurses and doctors. We also need physiotherapists, speech and language therapists and the whole gamut. This is where we are at. I am not taking pot shots here. This is the systemic stuff that we need to look at.

I am delighted the Minister referenced those people who are unvaccinated. This is the real elephant in the room. As far as I can see there are two types of unvaccinated persons. We know the majority of people in our hospital beds and acute settings at the moment are unvaccinated. There are people who are genuinely hesitant. We have all dealt with them and we know them. A lot of them are vulnerable people and we need to do something to encourage them and to give them confidence that they need to get this vaccine. There are the others out there, however, who are outside this gate who are preying on those people. There is blood on their hands and they are costing lives. They are ripping apart families with their misinformation and their targeting of vulnerable people with untruths about the vaccination and the vaccination programme. I do not have the answer but we cannot continue like this. We need to find something. I believe we are united across the House, across politics, and across society that we cannot allow such an element in our society to cause this damage with such lies and with such vehemence. Ultimately, some people who are lying in ICU beds now are old or vulnerable people who might be parents listening to their grown-up children spew this misinformation into their ears, and they are dying because of this. We saw the tragic case of Joe McCarron in Letterkenny Hospital as being the most public case, but this is happening elsewhere too. This is an important point.

Covid can twist and turn. We are entering into the winter season. There is a fear about the seasonality aspect. It is not only about this virus as we also have the flu season. We encourage all people to get the flu jab where they can. The reality is, however, that the flu jab still costs money. If a person needs to book a flu jab now, a lot of pharmacies or other places where it can be obtained, are booked out. We called for a free flu vaccine last year and we call for it again this year. It is not going to happen at this stage but we need to encourage people to get the flu vaccine in order to mitigate any bulge in our hospital service over the winter.

We are prepared if this virus turns around. We supported the extension of the framework for restrictions through the winter should that happen. We hope it will not. Encouraging news broke online today with regard to the third booster from Pfizer. It will be interesting to see where that goes. We will all work together. People look to this House and to the Government for a lead on it. Hopefully, with the resources and the right kind of decisions, this lead can continue to beat back this virus.


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