Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (501)

Holly Cairns

Question:

501. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Health if photographers can attend weddings; if live music is permitted under levels 5, 4, 3, and 2 restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2385/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

Ireland is now at level 5 of the Government's medium-term Plan Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19, which sets out Ireland's approach to managing and living with COVID-19 in a range of areas over a period of 6 – 9 months.

The Plan aims to allow society and businesses to operate as normally as possible, while protecting our key priorities of supporting and maintaining health and social care services, keeping education and childcare services open and protecting the most vulnerable members of our communities.

At Level 5, 6 guests may attend the wedding and wedding ceremony irrespective of venue. This does not include the persons getting married or persons attending in a professional capacity. The various limits at all levels in the Government's Plan are all designed to reduce the number of households mixing with each other and cut down the virus’s chances of spreading into more homes. It seeks to balance the risks of different types of gatherings against the desire to allow normal activities to proceed in so far as possible.

As I'm sure the Deputies can appreciate, COVID-19 spreads when individuals and groups come into close contact with one another, enabling the virus to move from one person to another. COVID-19 is infectious in a person with no symptoms, or for the period of time before they develop symptoms. In certain settings, such as weddings, higher noise levels due to music, can force people into close proximity, requiring them to raise their voices or shout to communicate thus increasing the risk of spreading the virus to others. Under the current public health measures in place for Covid-19 live music is not permitted at weddings. It is not possible to say what public health measures will be in place in the future. The public health advice relating to Covid-19 is kept under continuing review by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), by my Department and by the Government . The measures in place and the public health advice have been adapted to the changing circumstances and this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.

Details of the public health measures currently in place for weddings can be found at:- https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/2dc71-level-5/#weddings.

You may also wish to note that Fáilte Ireland has provided guidelines for the hospitality industry which includes guidance on weddings and is available at: - https://failtecdn.azureedge.net/failteireland/Guidelines-for-Re-opening-Hotels-and-Guesthouses.pdf.

Vaccination Programme

Questions (502)

Holly Cairns

Question:

502. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Health the number of Covid-19 vaccines administered as of 13 January 2021; the number of persons vaccinated aged 65 years and older and living in long-term care facilities; the number of front-line healthcare workers vaccinated; the number of non-front-line healthcare workers vaccinated; the number of persons aged 70 and older vaccinated; the number of administrators and managers in his Department and the HSE who are vaccinated, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2387/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond directly to the Deputy, as soon as possible.

Vaccination Programme

Questions (503, 591)

Holly Cairns

Question:

503. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Health if Covid-19 vaccines were administered to HSE administrators and managers who do not have direct contact with patients ahead of front-line healthcare workers; if so, the number; the rationale for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2388/21]

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Niamh Smyth

Question:

591. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Health if he will review correspondence (details supplied); if he will provide clarity on these matters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2641/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 503 and 591 together.

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond directly to the Deputy, as soon as possible.

Vaccination Programme

Questions (504)

Holly Cairns

Question:

504. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Health the number of Covid-19 vaccines rendered unusable, including those damaged in transport, stored incorrectly or damaged due to mishandling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2389/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

As this is a service matter I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond directly to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Vaccination Programme

Questions (505)

Holly Cairns

Question:

505. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Health if persons living in direct provision camps are included in the category 9, people aged 18-64 living or working in crowded settings of the provisional vaccine allocated groups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2390/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

The COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Strategy sets out a provisional list of groups for vaccination. The Strategy was developed by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and my Department, endorsed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), and approved by Government on 8 December 2020.

Vaccine allocation is a matter for my Department and further information is available here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/39038-provisional-vaccine-allocation-groups/.

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme is the responsibility of the HSE.

The aim of the COVID-19 vaccination programme is to ensure, over time, that vaccine will become available to vaccinate all of those for whom the vaccine is indicated. Given that there will be initially limited vaccines available, it will take some time for all to receive those vaccines and that has necessitated an allocation strategy to ensure that those most at risk of death and serious illness receive the vaccine first.

The priority is to first vaccinate and protect directly the most vulnerable amongst us, that is, those most likely to have a poor outcome if they contract the virus. The priority is to directly use vaccines to save lives and reduce serious illness, hence the focus on the over 65 year old cohort in long term residential care facilities, and healthcare workers in frontline services often caring for the most vulnerable.

All of the groups will be covered as further vaccine supplies become available and the immunisation programme is rolled out nationally.

The evidence will be kept under review and the allocation groups may be updated, where necessary, in light of new evidence.

Those living in direct provision will be vaccinated in group 9 of the Provisional Vaccine Allocation Groups, i.e., Aged 18-64 years living or working in crowded accommodation where self-isolation and social distancing is difficult to maintain.

However, it is important to note that a person living in direct provision could be vaccinated in an earlier group due to their age or their age and the presence of a specified medical condition.

Health Services Staff

Questions (506)

Holly Cairns

Question:

506. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Health if all student occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and radiology students will be paid for the work they do in hospital and healthcare settings as part of mandatory placements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2391/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

In the main, healthcare students do not receive an allowance to support time spent on placement as part of their course and there are no plans to change this.

It should be noted that across the health and social care disciplines, there could be over 8,000 students on placement in hospital and healthcare settings. Of this number, around a third are final year students. The length of placements and the activities performed during these placements vary between the disciplines. These students are not employees and in many cases the nature of the placement can, in the main, be limited to participation in an observing and a learning capacity.

In radiography departments, I can confirm that, during last year, assistant radiographers were employed on a 3 month contract following completion of their final year clinical placement, subject to the needs of the Health Service. As their skills were identified as being required during the COVID-19 response and subject to the needs of each acute hospital, they were offered a temporary 3 month assistant radiographer role following successful completion of their 7 week final year clinical placement. The 3-month period commenced on 18 May 2020.

In relation to nursing, uniquely for student nurses and midwives there is, in the final year, a paid salary when they are specifically employed on an internship placement. Student nurses and midwives’ final year internship placement consists of a continual 36-week rostered clinical placement, including annual leave. The internship placement is a paid placement as the student nurses and midwives take a reduced caseload. During these placements, students are under supervision and are considered as 0.5 WTE of the workforce. In addition, Intern students can be allocated across all shift patterns including nights, weekends and 12-hour days.

Student nurses and midwives undertaking unpaid supernumerary clinical placement as students are currently in receipt of an allowance. Again, given the unique requirements of these training programmes attendance at many placement sites is required, some of which are at a distance to base training hospital and the current allowance is to contribute to the cost of alternative accommodation/travel.

Vaccination Programme

Questions (507)

Holly Cairns

Question:

507. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Health if undocumented persons living in Ireland will be able to access the Covid-19 vaccine; if it can be assured that they will not be reported to the immigration authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2392/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

The Irish COVID-19 Vaccination Programme is designed to ensure the safe, effective, and efficient administration of a COVID-19 vaccine to all residents of Ireland who are indicated within the Vaccine Allocation strategy and wish to receive it.

The HSE has identified undocumented migrants as a higher risk group for COVID-19. There is a community assessment hub located in Dublin city centre specifically for such groups. The HSE has provided additional health supports for undocumented migrants (e.g., GP service in Capuchin Centre). A similar targeted approach will apply in terms of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

The HSE does not report undocumented migrants to immigration authorities.

It is important that undocumented migrants are encouraged and facilitated to take-up the Covid-19 vaccine.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (508)

Holly Cairns

Question:

508. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Health if employees of his Department have received Covid-19 vaccines due to their role in the Department; if so, the rationale for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2403/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

The COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Strategy sets out a provisional list of groups for vaccination. The Strategy was developed by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and my Department, endorsed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), and approved by Government on 8 December 2020.

Vaccine allocation is a matter for my Department and further information is available here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/39038-provisional-vaccine-allocation-groups/.

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme is the responsibility of the HSE.

The aim of the COVID-19 vaccination programme is to ensure, over time, that vaccine will become available to vaccinate all of those for whom the vaccine is indicated. Given that there will be initially limited vaccines available, it will take some time for all to receive those vaccines and that has necessitated an allocation strategy to ensure that those most at risk of death and serious illness receive the vaccine first.

The priority is to first vaccinate and protect directly the most vulnerable amongst us, that is, those most likely to have a poor outcome if they contract the virus. The priority is to directly use vaccines to save lives and reduce serious illness, hence the focus on the over 65 year old cohort in long term residential care facilities, and healthcare workers in frontline services often caring for the most vulnerable.

All of the groups will be covered as further vaccine supplies become available and the immunisation programme is rolled out nationally.

The evidence will be kept under review and the allocation groups may be updated, where necessary, in light of new evidence.

Hospital Staff

Questions (509)

Pa Daly

Question:

509. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Health if he will report on the recruitment process of a consultant at a hospital (details supplied); if there is a target timeline by which to complete the process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2412/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Hospital Staff

Questions (510)

Pa Daly

Question:

510. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to an offer of consultant resources at a hospital (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2413/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Vaccination Programme

Questions (511, 518, 607, 616, 617)

Pa Daly

Question:

511. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Health the position regarding the prioritisation of vulnerable adults with certain medical conditions, for example, Down's syndrome or cystic fibrosis, as priority No. 7 on the vaccine roll-out plan; if there will be an opportunity for these adults be reprioritised under any circumstance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2414/21]

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Neasa Hourigan

Question:

518. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for Health his plans to provide for the provision of the Covid-19 vaccine to persons with disabilities who are under 65 years of age; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2433/21]

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Paul McAuliffe

Question:

607. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Health if consideration will be given to reprioritising persons with Down's syndrome in the vaccination strategy and implementation plan, given their lower life expectancy, in particular persons in care homes aged 40 years of age plus. [2687/21]

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Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

616. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Health the position persons with disabilities are placed in the scheduled roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme. [2702/21]

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Gerald Nash

Question:

617. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Health when the intellectual disability sector will be scheduled for Covid-19 vaccination; the timeline for the vaccination of residents and staff in institutional congregated settings in the community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2704/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 511, 518, 607, 616 and 617 together.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Strategy sets out a provisional list of groups for vaccination. The Strategy was developed by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and my Department, endorsed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), and approved by Government on 8 December 2020.

Vaccine allocation is a matter for my Department and further information is available here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/39038-provisional-vaccine-allocation-groups/.

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme is the responsibility of the HSE.

The aim of the COVID-19 vaccination programme is to ensure, over time, that vaccine will become available to vaccinate all of those for whom the vaccine is indicated. Given that there will be initially limited doses available, it will take some time for all to receive those vaccines and that has necessitated an allocation strategy to ensure that those most at risk of death and serious illness receive the vaccine first.

The priority is to first vaccinate and protect directly the most vulnerable amongst us, that is, those most likely to have a poor outcome if they contract the virus. The priority is to directly use vaccines to save lives and reduce serious illness, hence the focus on the over 65 year old cohort in long term residential care facilities, and healthcare workers in frontline services often caring for the most vulnerable.

It is important to note that people with a disability are not a homogenous group and, therefore, each individual will be vaccinated in the group that is appropriate to them.

All of the groups will be covered as further vaccine supplies become available and the immunisation programme is rolled out nationally.

The evidence will be kept under review and the allocation groups may be updated, where necessary, in light of new evidence.

Medicinal Products

Questions (512)

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Question:

512. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Health his plans for funding the life-changing gene therapy voretigene neparvovec, also known as Luxturna; if his attention has been drawn to studies that reveal early administration of this medicine leads to greater life-enhancing benefits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2415/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Oireachtas put in place a robust legal framework, in the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013, which gives full statutory powers to the HSE to assess and make decisions on reimbursement of medicines, taking account of a range of objective factors and expert opinion as appropriate.

In line with the 2013 Health Act and the national framework agreed with industry, a company must submit an application to the HSE to have a new medicine added to the reimbursement list.

Reimbursement is for licensed indications which have been granted market authorisation by the European Medicines Agency or the Health Products Regulatory Authority.

In making a relevant reimbursement decision, the HSE is required under the Act to have regard to a number of criteria including efficacy, the health needs of the public, cost effectiveness and potential or actual budget impact.

HSE decisions on which medicines are reimbursed by the taxpayer are made on objective, scientific and economic grounds, on the advice of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics (NCPE).

The HSE has advised that on 23 September 2019 an application was received for the reimbursement of Voretigene neparvovec (Luxturna) for the treatment of adult and paediatric patients with vision loss due to inherited retinal dystrophy caused by confirmed biallelic RPE65 mutations and who have sufficient viable retinal cells.

On 29 October 2019, following the completion by the NCPE of a rapid review, the HSE commissioned a full pharmacoeconomic assessment with respect to this indication.

On 3 April 2020, the NCPE received the applicant’s submission for this assessment. On 18 September 2020, the NCPE completed its assessment and recommended that Voretigene neparvovec not be considered for reimbursement unless cost effectiveness can be improved relative to existing treatments.

The final HTA report will be reviewed by the HSE Drugs Group, along with the outputs of commercial negotiations which took place in November 2020 and the patient group submission received during the HTA process. The HSE advises that Voretigene neparvovec is expected to be included on a Drugs Group agenda in early 2021.

The HSE Executive Management Team is the decision-making body for the reimbursement of medicines under the Health Act 2013 and it will, following receipt of the outcome of the Drugs Group's deliberations, make the decision on whether Voretigene neparvovec will be reimbursed.

I can confirm that I have received representations in relation to this reimbursement application, including statements in relation to the early administration of this medicine. Under the 2013 Health Act, the Minister for Health has no role in reimbursement decisions.

General Practitioner Services

Questions (513)

Thomas Gould

Question:

513. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Health the status of the reopening of SouthDoc Blackpool. [2417/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Covid-19 Tests

Questions (514)

John Brady

Question:

514. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to reports that a number of private companies under HSE contracts are administering the home testing kits SARS-CoV-2 rapid antigen test in order to circumvent self-isolation periods for staff; if guidelines have been issued for such testing; if the efficacy of this testing process been established; the criteria and-or training for the administration of the tests; if it is deemed acceptable to use the testing kits in places of employment to eliminate isolation periods in which persons have been identified as close contacts or are showing symptoms of Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2423/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

There are clear guidelines, available on the HSE website at www.hse.ie and that have been communicated widely by the Department of Health, the HSE, in advertising, in the media and elsewhere, relating to what people should do if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or if they are close contacts of confirmed cases.

The public health advice is that anybody who is showing symptoms of COVID-19 should contact their GP for an assessment and referral for a test should the GP determine it is necessary. Anybody in this situation should behave as if they have the virus. People awaiting a test or waiting for the results of a test should self-isolate.

Persons who are close contacts of a confirmed case should restrict their movements for 14 days. A test, regardless of the result, does not change this guidance.

The guidance also describes the circumstances in which people can stop self-isolating. For a confirmed case, this is when you have had no fever for 5 days and it has been 10 days since you first developed symptoms. If you are a close contact and do not have any symptoms, you should continue to restrict your movements for 14 days. Do this from the last date you were in contact with the person who tested positive for COVID-19. If you’re not sure when that was, restrict your movements until the date you were told by the contact tracing team.

It is important to note that testing for Covid-19 only provides a point-in-time result. It confers no guarantee that an individual with a 'not detected' result is not incubating the infection or the level of virus was below detectable levels at the time of the test. This is why a test result does not change the guidance.

The HSE only accepts PCR tests for diagnosing COVID-19. This is the most reliable way of testing.

National Public Health Emergency Team

Questions (515)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

515. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Health if he will organise for the NPHET vulnerable people subgroup to be immediately reinstated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2424/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

Central to the evolution of NPHET processes is the recognition that health and social care services, and indeed the wider cross-government COVID-19 response, have to become embedded and ‘mainstreamed’ in the usual operational response of organisations, as society adapts to the reality of living for the foreseeable future in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July 2020, as part of a process examining the work of all the subgroups of the NPHET, it was deemed that the Subgroup on Vulnerable Persons had met its Terms of Reference regarding preparedness plans being in place across government for vulnerable groups, and accordingly, it was stood down. The associated ongoing work was realigned into the appropriate policy and operational functions of the Department of Health or other relevant Departments, organisations, or bodies.

Recognising that vulnerable groups can be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and as set out in Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19, the Department of the Taoiseach has convened a Senior Official Group and sub-groups as needed, to drive implementation of the Plan. This includes a Sub-group on higher risk groups to monitor the spectrum of issues that need to be addressed in relation to groups at higher risk of COVID-19. These groups support the COVID-19 Oversight Group and the Cabinet Committee on the Government Response to COVID-19. The Subgroup on higher risk groups meets on a regular basis.

As part of the work of the Sub-group, relevant Departments have reviewed the oversight, management and reporting structures, guidance, mitigation plans, and communications structures in place for the various higher-risk groups.

The Departments represented on the Sub-group are responsible for the on-going monitoring of the epidemiological data and of any outbreaks in higher risk groups within their remit based on the Weekly Report prepared by the HPSC on Outbreaks/Clusters and sectoral information systems/knowledge. Upon the Sub-group’s establishment, Departments were also requested to ensure that they have early warning systems in place for their relevant sectors and groups to deal with emerging issues. Sectoral-specific actions are led by the relevant Departments. There is ongoing bilateral contact between the Department of the Taoiseach and Sub-group members to monitor the situation. The COVID-19 Oversight group is kept informed where additional cross-government measures are required.

In line with the above mechanism, the Department of Health monitors the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable groups on an ongoing basis based on reports provided by the HSE so as to identify, at an early stage, any issues or risks arising in relation to the COVID-19 impact on these groups. Regular bilateral engagement between the Department of Health and the Department of the Taoiseach through the cross-government mechanism for higher risk groups ensures the communication of relevant information in respect of outbreak control for nursing homes, the disability and mental health sectors, and in respect of drug and alcohol services. In respect of mental health, a specific tripartite oversight group, comprising representatives from Department of Health, HSE, and the Mental Health Commission, is in place to monitor this sector. This group works together to identify potential solutions to any issues or risks arising and make follow up reports as appropriate. A number of other Government departments also report on higher risk groups, e.g., Traveller, Roma and homeless persons. This whole-of-Government approach ensures that emerging issues can be identified and acted upon.

The Department, the HSE, the HIQA, and the Mental Health Commission will continue interagency and interdepartmental collaboration, working together to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable groups and mitigate against associated risks.

I trust that the above information addresses the Deputy’s question satisfactorily.