Following its meeting on Sunday, the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, wrote to Government to outline their concerns about the increasing number of Covid cases throughout the State. It was, and still is, an extremely worrying situation. Since the weekend, there have been a number of large clusters in nursing homes, including one in Convoy in my own constituency. The rate of admissions to hospital has been on the rise and the number of Covid-19 cases in ICU has risen, as has the number of patients on ventilators. This is all reflected in the comments of the Chief Medical Officer, CMO, Dr. Tony Holohan, yesterday who said that his level of concern on Sunday was lower than his current level of concern.
Since then, instead of setting out a plan to deal with the situation in our hospitals, the Government has allowed a narrative to prevail that this it is everybody's fault bar their own. The Tánaiste said on RTÉ television that NPHET's advice was landed upon him as a surprise. We now know that is not the case. The CMO organised an extraordinary meeting of NPHET on Sunday and informed the Minister for Health of this on Saturday. He spoke to the Minister before and after the NPHET meeting. He did everything he could have to keep the Government in the loop. It was only when NPHET's recommendations made their way to Government that they were leaked. For 24 hours afterwards, the Government said nothing. When the Tánaiste did say something on national television, it was to engage in distraction and a sideshow. He played the man instead of the ball.
In all of this time the Minister for Health stayed schtum. He said nothing and allowed the perception to prevail that this had all come out of the blue. Most significantly, since then he has said nothing about increasing capacity in our hospitals. That is the real issue here.
We are unprepared for a surge in our hospitals due to the lack of capacity. The winter plan the Government published is insufficient, as everybody knows. The Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, has said that the winter plan will not be enough. Its president, Dr. Padraig McGarry, said that shutting down elective care to deal with any winter surge is not an option given the impact of delayed diagnosis, delayed treatment and ever-increasing waiting lists for outpatient appointments, inpatient day cases and investigative procedures. This lack of capacity and lack of beds is the crux of the problem.
The Tánaiste might talk about surge capacity and so on in his reply but we know that the knock-on effects of this approach will be absolutely catastrophic for the health service. He knows that and so do I. We need to tackle this issue head-on and to tackle it now. Does the Tánaiste accept that ICU capacity is a major issue? Does he also accept that the current plan is completely insufficient to deal with a second surge without having a massive impact on non-Covid care? Crucially, what is he going to do about it?