Seanad debates

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Living with Covid-19 Restrictions: Statements (Resumed)


10:30 am

Emer Currie (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

Last week I spoke about directors of nursing in nursing homes. These directors have years of experience doing assessments for tests for all of the other viral infections except Covid-19 but must go through GPs who do not necessarily visit homes every day. While I might call my GP and organise a test quite quickly, directors of nursing cannot do so. I can also call my out-of-hours service which can organise a test without delay. However, a nursing home might have to wait for a GP to visit and officially say that a test is needed, and then the nursing home does the test. This is an unnecessary delay that I hope can be fixed.

I understand from a general data protection regulation, GDPR, point of view that when it comes to blanket testing the results go to the employee rather than the employer. If an employee consents can the results also be shared with his or her employer so that the employer and the home can make sure they can co-ordinate and manage staffing and safety protocols more safely? The Minister of State will know the strain on staffing levels.

I have a question on the turnaround time for tests. Are tests for private nursing homes prioritised in the same way as hospitals? Why do people who are diagnosed with Covid-19 only receive their code to input into the Covid app, which kicks off the automatic phone-based contact tracing, after the HSE's contact tracing has reached out personally? One gets a text to say whether one has Covid-19. Should the code that one can put into one's phone not be given at that stage if the result is positive rather than wait for the contact tracing team to make contact and then send a text with the code? That, too, might speed up the process.

The news about vaccine development is very encouraging. Where are we with the vaccine uptake strategy? I recommend that somebody meets the Psychological Society of Ireland as it has compiled a report on influencing vaccine behaviour. The society is in a really strong position due to its experience in behavioural change and health to inform a communications strategy that will be essential. As many as 1.5 million people die each year from not getting vaccines, according to the PSI. In the Ipsos MRBI RTÉ survey, one third of the respondents said they would be unsure about a vaccine and 12% said they would not take it. They recommend an approach that is about altruism and good citizenship rather than fear-based messaging, and to tease out how to avoid choice anxiety, taking into consideration where we are at the moment in terms of behavioural challenges.

I wish to refer to maternity hospitals once again. These women need more compassion and transparency. Their partners are willing to do anything such as paperwork, texts or whatever. Can we come up with a commonsense approach as we exit level 5? One in five women suffer a mental health problem in pregnancy or after birth, which can be mild or severe, but if left untreated this can have a significant impact on family relationships. Has the Department of Health liaised with the specialist perinatal mental health services to establish if there has been an increase in women seeking treatment since March? What measures are being taken to address the issue?

I have heard that water births have been ceased. I am a bit confused by that as they can happen at home, which might be a way to reduce the spread of infection.

Will the number of people allowed to attend weddings and funerals be increased as we consider levels? Can the Minister of State advise if children's swimming lessons could be included as a controlled sport under level 3 because swimming is a life skill and is not just a sport?


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