Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions
I thank all of the Deputies for the issues raised under this heading. Deputies Bacik and Boyd Barrett raised the issue of private healthcare. In an emergency and in a pandemic, it makes sense to use all capacity that is available within the country. In regard to the first deal, I was not in government then but, to be fair to everybody, it was entered into in the uncertainty of the first wave of a pandemic and it was not, perhaps, utilised optimally. It was a huge cost. In terms of what has happened since, the HSE has entered into a more sustained agreement with the private sector, but I do not have the exact cost here. It is a type of safety net programme, with up to 1,000 bed days per week currently being utilised and a plan to increase that to 3,000 per week given the pressures on the public acute system because of Covid-19.
It is important to point out that this year has seen the largest increase in the provision of beds in our public health system, with approximately 950 hospitals beds to be in place across the system by the end of this year. The number of ICU beds has increased from 255 in 2020 to close to 300 now, and it is hoped to expand that further. There is a clear programme of expansion of public sector health provision and capacity. There is a whole range of work still to be done in terms of the consultant contract issue and other issues. Meanwhile, the idea of nationalising other hospitals is not on the agenda, nor is it possible. We cannot just rock up and buy a hospital if there is no vendor.
As we expand the public health sector, it has to be integrated into our existing structures. In terms of the elective facilities mentioned, they are public elective facilities that have to be integrated into existing acute hospital systems within given regional areas. The relationship, for example, between an elective facility in Cork in terms of Cork University Hospital and the Mercy University Hospital and others is key. That has to be part of the wider public health provision and giving access to public patients. Likewise in Galway and Dublin, where elective facilities are being planned for. The Department of Health is working up proposals in respect of facilities in those locations.
I do not have the exact cost of the current programme but my understanding is that it would have been discussed in committee prior to this wave because it was been in place for most of this year. It is increased as pressures increase on the public system. The overarching objective is to increase investment in the public system. That remains the overarching priority.
In regard to the inquiry in terms of the appalling situation that occurred in Stranorlar and the terrible reports which we have learned about there, Deputy McDonald stated that the Garda is stopping the publication of that report. An Garda Síochána is the authority in this country in terms of the law and prosecutions to criminal law. Ordinarily, Government does not intervene and tell the Garda not to pursue something or to abandon its investigations. I believe in the full truth being known and that the report should be published. My understanding is the Garda is indicating that full publication could jeopardise its investigatory process. Ultimately, the report has to be published. The families of all those who have suffered need to be given the full information in respect of this case. It is a shocking situation.
On Deputy Barry's question, transmissibility of the Delta variant is enormous across Europe. Fortunately, we have had one of the better vaccination programmes, with 93% of our population fully vaccinated, which is protecting against severe illness. Other European countries that are at 65% and 70% are experiencing a real problem now with the unvaccinated ending up in ICU. Last week, over seven days, 210,000 were vaccinated. That is not an inconsiderable number of vaccinations. That should be acknowledged. We have to do more. We have to increase capacity and we are going to do that. In addition, we have expanded the use of antigen testing significantly in the past six months, both in terms of various sectors such as the food production and healthcare sectors and in terms of close contacts, in respect of which up to 60,000 free tests were provided and a further 100,000 were provide to the agriculture sector.