This is the last opportunity we have to be reassured that the Government has a handle on Covid before the Dáil recess. There is a lot of talk from the Government about personal responsibility. That is part of it, but I believe that the vast majority of people are already doing their best to keep themselves and their families safe. We must act with our healthcare workers and the burden this pandemic is putting on them in mind. We can reduce our social contacts, make sure to mask up and test regularly, but there are limits. The role of, and obligation on, Government is much larger. That starts with getting the communication right. That means an end to mixed messaging and contradictions, Ministers flying kites or speculating in the media and senior politicians in government blaming others when they do not get things right.
Over the past few months, the Government has failed to make the right call time and again in many areas. It made the wrong call on antigen tests from the beginning. It dismissed them and the role they could have played much earlier in keeping people safe. The Minister recently refused to subsidise them in order to increase usage and accessibility, and supplement PCR testing, where appropriate, with all of the necessary caveats. That is despite the very clear advice from the Covid-19 rapid testing group established in April chaired by the Government chief scientific adviser, Professor Mark Ferguson. Rapid tests will be an incredibly important screening tool this winter as families gather for Christmas and will be a financial burden on far too many who are already struggling with the rampant rise in the cost of living.
The Government has failed on ventilation and making schools as safe as possible. Despite the very clear advice from the expert group on ventilation, which reported in March, the Government failed to use the summer to protect classrooms. The Government denied for months that schools were sites of transmission. That does not mean that they cannot be relatively safe, but the refusal of the Government to invest in proper systems to control the spread of Covid-19 in schools has made them far riskier than they should have been. We now have a window to right that wrong while schools close for Christmas. When they reopen, every poorly ventilated classroom must be fitted with CO2 monitoring systems and HEPA or appropriate air filtration systems. There is a very cold January ahead, as we know. The Government must do everything it can to make schools safer and do right by our children before they reopen.
The Minister for Health also needs to step up the booster campaign. It is unforgivable that the Government took its foot off the pedal after the summer. The vaccination workforce dropped by a third and that has delayed the booster campaign for weeks, if not months. The Government failed to ensure that flexible arrangements were in place to rapidly ramp up the workforce and vaccination capacity. It has not made full use of the pharmacies and pharmacists around the country who have been eager to administer as many vaccines as they can. The Government has failed in many ways regarding booster vaccines, despite the mountain of evidence that they would be needed. This has set us back. There have been incredible problems with the booster campaign to date, especially the booking systems. The Government has blamed the slow pace on no-shows, when in reality many no-shows are people who had already been vaccinated or were issued with multiple appointments. The Government must acknowledge when it gets it wrong rather than blame people who have already done so much.
Alongside boosters for the immunocompromised, the most important task over the next two months is vaccination for those aged under 12. There are many parents with concerns that must be addressed and they must be reassured. Parents must have access to any necessary information to ensure a high uptake of the vaccine among this cohort. The Government must do more to reach people who are unvaccinated as best it can. The vaccines are safe and effective. We must make sure that people know this and have the opportunity to get them. A high uptake across the entire population is essential to control the spread and consequences of Covid-19 for all of our people.
Our hospitals are in the depths of a very difficult winter. At the start of this week there were 534 patients on trolleys, tucked into ward corners and corridors. Over the past week there were more than 325 patients on trolleys in Limerick and 281 in Letterkenny, and five other hospitals had more than 100 patients on trolleys. That is a very unsafe environment in normal times, never mind in a pandemic, for patients and staff. It illustrates the failures of this and previous Governments that have left our hospitals vulnerable and the State in a uniquely exposed position throughout this pandemic. It makes us all the more deeply concerned about the Omicron variant. While it has been reported as potentially less severe, that is little comfort if it is more transmissible when our hospitals are already at capacity.
As of yesterday evening,, there were only 83 open and available general beds in hospitals. Some nine hospitals, including Waterford, St. Vincent's, Sligo and Mayo, had none. Only three have more than five. Incredibly, in the 2022 budget not a single additional inpatient bed was provided or budgeted for over and above what was in place. Our ICUs are full. There are no available beds for children and only seven available beds for adults in four counties. We know we have capacity problems in healthcare and the Government has simply failed to put extra capacity in place.
This is only going to get more difficult for our front-line healthcare workers over the next month. They are already well beyond burnout and exhaustion, yet they soldier on. We owe them a debt of gratitude, but I fear that will not be repaid anytime soon. They deserve breaks, their annual leave and to work normal hours for fair pay. They also deserve the recognition and bonus payments that were promised. We heard a lot of talk from Ministers, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the leader of the Green Party before the budget about a recognition payment for those on the front line. The budget came and went and nothing happened. After the budget, nothing has happened. This is the last sitting of the Dáil before the Christmas break, yet the Government has done absolutely nothing to recognise the hard work of those on the front line in health care. They will be the very same people that will have to do Trojan work over the next number of weeks and months. Shame on the Government for not resolving that issue when it should have.