I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I commend front-line workers who kept the country on its feet throughout the pandemic. Sinn Féin supports the waiving of Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland, NMBI, registration fees this year, as we did last year, as a way of showing gratitude for the Trojan work of nurses and midwives during the pandemic. Healthcare workers deserve more than a clap on the back and they certainly deserve more than a once-off bank holiday, as currently reported. Our native Kildare saint, St. Brigid, or the goddess Brigid, as some see her, certainly deserves more than a once-off bank holiday.
I have written to the Minister to ask that the NMBI registration fee be waived this year for the tens of thousands of nurses and midwives who have sacrificed so much in the past two years. It would be a small but important gesture to demonstrate that the political system stands with them and the Government understands the needs of healthcare workers. Sinn Féin will continue to advocate in the interests of these workers.
The substantive motion relates to the extension of measures arising from the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020, the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020, the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Act 2020 and the Health (Amendment) Act 2020. We cannot just roll over these measures without a plan or direction to help our healthcare system to cope better with the immense pressure it is under. It is far too risky an approach and the Government has taken enough risks with people's lives. We have a Government that is kite-flying and the Minister knows it is a recipe for disaster.
Winter is coming and we have been promised a fantastic plan imminently to deal with waiting lists. I hope it will be more successful than the plan put forward by a former Taoiseach, Mr. Enda Kenny, 14 years ago when he promised to end the scandal of long waiting lists and patients on trolleys. We all know how that went. I have reason to be pessimistic, as all we have to do is look at the mess Sláintecare is in.
A constituent of mine was due to have an operation a few weeks ago but it was cancelled at the last minute. The man has been on a waiting list for seven years. The reason for cancellation was that the consultant would not be there on the day but I suspect the consultant got a better offer at a private hospital. The operation was rescheduled for this week and the constituent had to call at 6 a.m. to see if a bed was available but the hospital did not know at the time and he was told to call back at 8 a.m. On calling back at 8 a.m. he was told somebody would call him back and he received a call at 9.40 a.m. to say there was no bed. This was after two weeks of reducing medication and living with the resultant pain and inflammation. What kind of way is that to treat people? The Minister should be absolutely ashamed of himself.
Will he consider our older people as much of the language used around nursing homes is wrong?
When families are spoken to, words such as "dangerous", "damaging", "harmful", "allowed", "permitted", "limited", "booking system" and "restricted" are used. This language reflects the attitudes and culture in our nursing homes. Both need to change drastically to reflect the person-centred care that is referred to in the glossy brochures. We must remember these are homes. They are not prisons or warehouses where our old people go to die. They live in them, and life is for living. We must look after them. The mental health of our older people must be considered. It is equally as important as physical health. Families are willing to take precautions but we must meet them halfway.
The virus is in a new phase. Personal responsibility plays a major part. The new reality is we will live with this virus. Rules must recognise and reflect that we are supposed to be moving out of the emergency period. Almost 90% of the eligible population - those aged over 12 years - are fully vaccinated. We need measures that reflect our current situation and where we are going.