Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Covid-19: New Measures: Statements
Brian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
I am sharing my time with Deputy Cronin. We are lucky in this State to have widespread public support for the broad suite of measures we are implementing. We do not have the same difficulties as other countries have. However, the public want solutions and quicker and decisive action to address the Covid-19 surge. We need to see a much quicker roll-out of the booster vaccine programme. This has been referred to by Government Deputies as well. It needs to be ramped up with additional centres in additional locations, as well as greater involvement from GPs and pharmacies. We need to get up to the pace we were at in June and July. I think the Minister mentioned 200,000 earlier. We should push that up to 300,000 and beyond if possible. We need to gear that up because it is going to be trickier to control this in winter.
We also need to deal with the issue of antigen testing. Workers and families need access to affordable antigen testing on a regular basis. We were asking for antigen testing to be looked at as far back as 18 months ago. Right now outlets are charging up to €15 for a single such test. If you want to slow down the spread of Covid, we need people who are asymptomatic to be regularly testing themselves and to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus. We need greater access to PCR tests for those who have symptoms. We must try to deal with this issue. It is really important people have access to a very accurate PCR test. People are having difficulty accessing the PCR centres. We need more walk-in centres opened so the public can have access to them in order to slow down the spread of the virus.
On healthcare facilities and hospitals, I am aware we came into this crisis with under capacity, with less than half the ICU beds we need. That is accepted now. However, we have had more than 18 months to respond to this. I know the capacity cannot be magicked up as specially-trained staff are needed and it is not as simple as just putting a bed into a room but we must try to improve ICU capacity. We have hundreds of people on trolleys. We have that every winter. We knew this was coming and the capacity issues are nothing new. I highlight to the Minister that in Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise there are only two permanent ICU beds. There are four in Midland Regional Hospital Tullamore. If you do the maths, with the population ratio of the region, it is way under what is required.
I ask the Minister of State to look at increasing the capacity in Portlaoise and Tullamore hospitals as we move ahead. We put forward a proposal in our budget - we were serious about it and did not do it for fun - for the allocation of funding for 600 extra acute beds, 34 ICU beds and 194 specialist beds at a cost of €124 million. The Government proposed 19 ICU beds and while every bed is welcome, we believe we need to go further than that. Our proposal includes provision for 2,500 extra staff. We need to see that level of ambition coming from the Government.
There has been a lack urgency and some foot-dragging by the Government on this. We are living with a virus for almost two years now, yet we are still trying to play catch-up. We need to be more proactive, we need to get ahead of it and we need to up our game.