Seanad debates

Monday, 29 March 2021

Covid-19 Vaccination Programme: Statements


10:30 am

Sharon Keogan (Independent)

I welcome the Minister to the House. It is always good to have the opportunity to address him in person. I acknowledge his job is no easy task at the best of times, not to mention during the circumstances pertaining since he took office. He inherited the responsibility for a health service that had, for years, suffered from a lack of capacity in key areas such as ICU. I note that the Tánaiste and his Government ignored pleas to expand capacity in these areas, a failure the nation has been paying a heavy price for over the past 13 months. Need I mention the national children's hospital project that has been plagued by incompetence, delays and skyrocketing cost overruns? I can empathise with the Minister on that front. However, we are well over a year into this global pandemic. Our healthcare system is in turmoil, our national debt is ballooning, people have lost jobs and been put on the PUP, businesses are on life support, our children have lost out on invaluable time in education, and all of our lives have been continuously put on hold for the past 13 months.

The scale of the damage being done to people, including to their mental and physical health, and to the country is incalculable. I have heard anecdotal reports that suicide and domestic violence are on the rise, with women and children being trapped with their abusers for months on end with little to no relief. Families have been deprived of the ability to attend the funerals of loved ones. Their grief has been amplified. Public worship has been outlawed in a most cavalier fashion without a body of solid and empirical evidence to support this move. The same can be said of construction. The cessation of construction is exacerbating the housing crisis and the chronic economic crisis.

From its ivory tower, NPHET has force-fed the public a diet consisting of crude Covid statistic fear and admissions on a daily basis. This is hardly a diet that is conducive to good public health, mental or otherwise. NPHET would better serve the public through the adoption of a holistic approach and a nuanced strategy that takes account of all aspects of public health in the short, medium and long term, as well as the societal effects of its diktats. I distinctly recall the Chief Medical Officer saying it was not his job to consider the consequences of his advice and that another body should perhaps be set up to do this. That body is called the Government. This Government, as well as the previous one, has totally abdicated its responsibility to take decisions to govern. The Tánaiste said in an interview with Claire Byrne that NPHET's advice had not been thought through and that it had no answers to obvious and valid questions he had put to it on the consequences of its advice.

Regarding consequences, the Minister and the Government need to take note that the Irish Hospital Consultants Association is predicting that almost 1 million people will be on hospital waiting lists by the end of this year. These are people with serious and life-threatening conditions, cardiovascular disease, cancer and many other people with debilitating diseases. The life-threatening wait for treatments is set to get worse, with 700 hospital consultant positions remaining unfilled. Consultants say more beds and staff are desperately needed to deal with more than 900 inpatient and outpatient hospital appointments that have been cancelled to focus on Covid. Consultants have criticised the HSE's approach to mental health, the e-health technology project, recruitment, ICU capacity, and equipment. The allocation of 1% of additional Covid spending to mental health is "grossly inadequate" according to Professor Alan Irvine.

In light of this appalling vista, and I have only described the tip of the proverbial iceberg, I ask the Minister when he will admit he is out of his depth? We are at a point in this crisis where we need a Minister for Health who is willing to fight to get vaccines for the people of this country. The Department of Health and the HSE have been about as dynamic during the vaccination roll-out as a ship beached in the Suez Canal. It is simply unacceptable to sit and continue to wait for the European procurement system to deliver the vaccines our people urgently need. We need somebody who will act with a sense of urgency and provide much needed clarity and leadership. This is the Minister's first role in any Government. I put it to him that he has lost trust and confidence on account of his mismanagement of this crisis. I am referring to the poor communication from him, the mixed messaging, the never-ending doom and gloom, the squandering of taxpayers' money on a failed tracking and tracing system, and the stalling of mandatory quarantine and PCR testing for foreign visitors to our country for the entire year. Meanwhile, Irish people cannot stray 5 km from their homes without fear of being stopped by gardaí or being asked for a reason for their doing so. I will continue later on.


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