Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 October 2021

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


5:25 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I thank the medical staff who have been at the forefront and worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic in community hospitals and general hospitals. I commend them on their bravery despite the difficulties they have experienced. While these people are professionals, what they have seen must have been terribly traumatic for them. Often, they were away from their families and it must have been difficult. We can only say, "Thanks", but sometimes thanks is just not enough.

The pandemic has exposed what is wrong in our hospitals and our nursing homes. Many of the community hospitals need to be up to a standard and those standards were set many years ago. I know that because I am chairman of the Friends of Schull Hospital. I commend the former Minister, James Reilly, who, during his term in office, provided the funding to Schull Community Hospital to allow it to reach the required HIQA standards. It is probably the top community hospital in Ireland.

Unfortunately, Clonakilty hospital did not get those funds with devastating consequences for many families during this pandemic. It also had devastating consequences for many of the staff in that hospital, through no fault of their own, because the hospital simply did not have the funding to achieve the standards required. Since the onset of the pandemic, it has yet to receive any funding to rectify this situation. The approach appears to be to shut down beds rather than allowing beds to remain open in a safe manner. The standards were very clear. Ten or 12 years ago we felt that Schull Community Hospital was not up to that standard. We were very worried about how it would be brought up to that and how we would get the funding for it. We fought bravely and thanks to James Reilly and others, we were lucky enough to get the funding and the hospital was brought up to a tremendous standard.

Unfortunately, any hospital or nursing home that was not brought up to that standard was found out very quickly. Not only has the HSE failed, but the Government has failed to give the funding for Clonakilty Community Hospital. If the Minister is not able to answer me today, he might be able to come back to me and tell me if the funding has now been provided to bring that hospital up to the required standard so that if there is a continuation of this pandemic or another pandemic the patients in that hospital will be given the respect they deserve. It serves a large community in Clonakilty, Timoleague, Barryroe, Courtmacsherry, Ballinascarty down into Bandon and back from Rosscarbery into Skibbereen. It covers a large terrain. Many people have used the step-down beds in that fabulous community hospital. However, it is does not meet the standards and the same is true for other nursing homes. It came at a very high cost to people's lives.

Last week I spoke to a lady who badly wanted to visit her mother in Bantry General Hospital. When there are additional Covid cases, the hospital is required to be closed to visitors. I understand the need for that; there is no disrespect to the hospital. However, there needs to be some mechanism for the families to communicate with their loved ones in the hospital. There is nothing worse than to be parted from a loved one, such as a mother or father. Sometimes they may have dementia and the concern is they may think they are being abandoned. It was a great relief when a lovely member of staff helped her to communicate with her mother even though it was only for ten minutes. Surely even if it is not a medical professional, somebody can provide a person with a phone or a tablet, go to the patient and talk to the loved one at home for those ten minutes a week. It is a small thing to ask but it is very important for people who cannot visit a loved one in hospital for a long time.

Having 1 million people on a waiting list is an extra scourge on people who need hip, knee and other surgical procedures. I think we should consider opening hospitals 24-7. We need to find a way to alleviate this because if the pandemic ends, those 1 million people will become 1.1 million or 1.2 million. Where will it stop?

I must now to discuss the services that were lost and are being lost. Earlier I raised with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, the issue of the SouthDoc service in Castletownbere. I appreciate that the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, communicates back to me but someone is giving him false information because he has told me that it has been resolved. The professionals in Castletownbere have told me there was no out-of-hours SouthDoc service last night and there will be no out-of-hours SouthDoc service in Castletownbere over the weekend. If that happened in Cork city or Dublin, there would be a national outcry. It is frightening that the people from Ardgroom, Lauragh, Glengarriff, Adrigole, Allihies and Eyeries have no out-of-hours service.

It is not fair. They got a solution and a gentleman came but he had no vehicle. The only way he could go to a house was to hitch-hike in the middle of the night. That does not make sense at all and there is no sense of reality.

I know CoAction is outside the Minister's brief but it deals with people with intellectual disabilities and it is closing one of its homes in Castletownbere in the next three to four weeks. Three people with intellectual disabilities are losing their home after the past 30 or 40 years in that community. Some of them are 50 or 60 years of age. Will the Minister speak to his Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, who communicated with me to say she would try to resolve the position but I have heard nothing since? It is not good enough in a pandemic that these people may be taken 120 km or 130 km away to a different home. These people must be respected.


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