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Joint Committee on Health debate -
Wednesday, 18 Nov 2020

Business of Joint Committee

Following our private meeting yesterday afternoon I asked the committee to confirm that the following are agreed: the minutes of the meeting of 11 November; the actions relating to the items of correspondence; the additions to the work programme; and the appointments of chairperson and membership of the new subcommittee on mental health. Is that agreed? Agreed. On behalf of the committee I congratulate Senator Frances Black who will chair this important subcommittee.

Is there any other business?

My apologies for missing the meeting yesterday - I got caught up on another issue. An item of correspondence yesterday related to orthodontics. That has been going on for some time. Could we have this back on the agenda at the earliest possible date? It is most important.

Yes. We agreed that we would stay in touch with the individual who wrote to us as well. The clerk has been in touch.

I appreciate that.

I had texted the clerk about membership of the mental health subcommittee.

Clerk to the Committee


I am on that subcommittee. I wish to raise two other things relating to the Irish Pharmacy Union, IPU, and narcolepsy. The committee may have discussed this with the organisations. Are they on the agenda?

They are still on the agenda.

Clerk to the Committee

That is right. They are still on the agenda. We are waiting for a reply from the Department on narcolepsy.

Can I add the IPU to the list?

Clerk to the Committee

Yes, we can.

What does that mean?

What it means is we have the agenda filled up to December. After then we need to prioritise who we bring in. We are not ruling anyone out at this stage. We will be bringing in the IPU when we discuss supply and pricing of medicines.

We will be bringing in the IPU.

I had asked a few weeks ago that we would do a session on Covid-19 vaccines. I think we had agreed on 16 December. That date is timely because it gives the new chairperson and the members of the task force time to examine all the issues. I propose that Brian MacCraith, who is the chairperson of the task force, be invited in. We should also have in Colm Henry, the HSE lead, and Professor Butler from the Royal College of Physicians Ireland. She has been excellent.

The vaccine will be important and significant in the battle against Covid-19. There are many exciting developments in this area. This will pose a challenge in terms of distribution and it will be important to have the infrastructure in place. Let us consider the flu vaccine this year. We have 1.3 million doses. However, for Covid-19 we will need 3.3 million doses at least. There will be advance purchase agreements with several of these companies. This is the biggest number of doses of vaccine that will ever be administered in the history of the State. Given its scale, I imagine we will need pop-up centres for administration. I am unsure whether general practitioners and pharmacists have the ability to roll this out as quickly as it needs to be done. There may be a need to recruit staff and train up staff and so on. This is why it is timely for us to be dealing with it at that meeting.

It is important that we get this right so that, come December, the bones of a plan are in place when the task force representatives come before the committee. Can we give them a heads-up as quickly as we can about that session? These are the types of conversations we want to have with them.

The clerk has already been in touch trying to get witnesses for that meeting. I imagine we all collectively agree that it has to be a priority. There are also the questions of uptake, prioritisation of medical assessment and plans for procurement and distribution.

I have a second question. We got a submission from the Irish Association of Social Workers on adult safeguarding. It is an important issue because it relates to the ability of the association to examine cases in nursing homes. Several members of this committee who were members of the Covid-19 committee raised this issue previously. I thought it was an excellent submission. It is something we should look at in the new year because a Bill is already in existence. It was progressed through the Seanad and is in the legislative programme. The Government is looking at a different Bill or maybe it is the same Bill. Anyway, the submission called for adult safeguarding to be put on a statutory footing and the possibility of an independent statutory agency to deal with this to be considered.

This is a major issue and one that the Minister for Health could work with us on. I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, directly on this. He is willing to work with the committee. It would be good for this committee to advance that issue for patient safety reasons.

I wish to raise a point of order. Is this not the kind of stuff that should be discussed on a Tuesday? It is eating into time and we have witnesses coming in. I do not think it is good practice.

It should be. I am trying to be as relaxed as possible with the members but I am conscious of it. In future, I will try to be stricter.

Two hours is a short period for any session.