Seanad debates

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Living with Covid-19 Restrictions: Statements (Resumed)


10:30 am

Mark Wall (Labour) | Oireachtas source

I too welcome the Minister of State back to the House. I also pay tribute once again to all of those who continue to put themselves forward to help others, both workers and the many volunteers who have come to the fore during this pandemic. I am aware of people with disabilities living independently who are only seeing their carers for 30 minutes in the morning and another 30 minutes in the evening. Outside of that, they are in total isolation and have no human contact for the rest of the day. Most have severe underlying health conditions and cannot have visitors or go anywhere within the area allowed under the restrictions. Some of these individuals receive phone calls from social inclusion groups within their area such as Older Voices Kildare, a terrific group which does great support work. I ask the Minister of State to consider providing further supports for those isolated in this way and groups such as Older Voices Kildare which are filling gaps in the lives of many at this difficult time.

We will discuss the area of domestic violence separately in the Seanad next week, but I would also like to raise it today. It is always important to let people know that help is available. Women's Aid Ireland recently reported a worrying increase of 1,000 in the number of calls to its helpline each month since Covid began. Its telephone number is 1800 341900. Unfortunately, like many others, I have dealt with more distressing calls as a public representative in recent months than I have ever had to deal with previously. Covid has unfortunately created many new domestic monsters and organisations such as Women's Aid and Teach Tearmainn in my county of Kildare need as much Government support as can be given at this time.

I also raise the issue of pay for our student nurses. I support the call made on this and ask the Department to urgently consider it. Student nurses have rightly received applause and warm words from members of the Government but these young people need payment. I have been contacted by many student nurses who have had to give up their chance to work for care providers or nursing homes because of the demands on their time during this Covid crisis. Student nurses should be paid for the essential work they have carried out. I am sure the Minister of State would agree that, without them, the health system would be under much more pressure than it currently is.

Like many colleagues, I continue to receive queries regarding waiting times for hospital appointments and procedures. I am informed that the number of patients on the outpatient waiting list is now over 600,000. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State could let us know what he and the Department are doing to address these non-Covid medical needs. What plan is in place, or what plan will be put in place, for non-Covid conditions? To tease out the issue a little further, how will those who have missed out on appointments be treated within the system? Nothing really stands out in that regard apart from the fact that the number on the waiting list is well over 600,000. Perhaps the Minister of State could address that in his reply.

Moving away from the area of health, I will mention an issue regarding education. I refer to the pressure on the leaving certificate class of 2021 due to the lack of clarity as to whether they will sit a final examination. There is constant pressure on them to perform to their maximum in each class test as each result may be taken into account if we have to go down the road of predicted grades once again. Having spoken to a number of students, I know this additional pressure is having a detrimental impact on their mental health. They feel that they are in constant examination mode and they are not getting the downtime they need. I ask the Minister of State to address that issue with the Minister for Education.

I am sure the Minister of State is aware of all of the local efforts to run "shop local" campaigns to support local businesses, as has been mentioned, but also to support the local communities that depend on those businesses. In my home town of Athy, there is a very active campaign to shop local. Like other Senators, I get almost daily requests from businesses from around Kildare. What assurance can the Minister of State give those businesses that they will be able to operate in the run-up to Christmas? Is his Department planning any additional health advice for the general public as to how they might safely go about shopping locally? I am sure he would support these local campaigns but I am equally sure that these business owners are looking to him and the Government for guidance and help at this time.

I will use this opportunity to again mention those who are suffering from long-term and terminal illnesses. I will raise the issue of medical cards for such people. It is an issue I have brought up before with the Minister of State and the Minister. The campaigner, John Wall, has received a letter back. Perhaps the Minister of State could give us an update on what is happening. I believe a report is about to be issued. I support Mr. Wall's campaign totally.


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