Rare Diseases

Questions (269)

Colm Burke

Question:

269. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Health if he will engage with the HSE to hold an additional meeting of the drugs group to address ongoing medicines access delays faced by patients with rare diseases here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7591/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

The HSE has statutory responsibility for decisions on pricing and reimbursement of medicines under the community drugs schemes, in accordance with the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013. As Minister for Health, I have no role in the process of individual reimbursement decisions under the 2013 Health Act.

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 licenced 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).

While the 2013 Health Act does not include provision for a different ruleset when assessing orphan drugs, the HSE seeks as far as possible to take into account issues such as the small patient numbers and the nature of the condition to be treated when evaluating these medicines. The criteria that apply to the evaluation process allow sufficient scope for the HSE to take on board the particular circumstances that pertain to orphan drugs and rare diseases.

There has been a number of key changes in the HSE assessment process of medicines within the confines of the 2013 Health Act. These have included changes to the HSE Drugs Group, whose membership has been expanded to include two representatives from the National Patients Forum and more clinical expertise in the area of rare diseases.

In June 2018, the HSE Leadership appointed a Technology Review Committee for Rare Diseases (RDTRC) which is responsible for:

1) reviewing proposals received from industry or expert groups in Ireland for funding of new products for rare diseases including orphan drugs, or expanded indications for existing products for rare diseases and making recommendations as to the implementation of the relevant recommendations from the National Rare Diseases Plan 2011-2018; and

2) providing contributions to the development of clinical guidelines for relevant Orphan Medicinal Products (OMPs) and supporting the implementation of guidelines in conjunction with the National Drugs Management Programme Office where applicable. The Committee’s recommendations for reimbursement of OMPs are not intended to replace any part of the existing medicines appraisal or reimbursement process but rather complement it.

Medicinal Products

Questions (270)

Denis Naughten

Question:

270. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health when the processes required to implement the managed access programme regarding formalising the approval for reimbursement of dupilumab is expected to be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7594/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

Under the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013, the HSE has statutory responsibility for the administration of the community drug schemes; therefore, the matter has been referred to the HSE for attention and direct reply to the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (271)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

271. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Health the mechanism for a person to travel who has recovered from Covid-19 but who would still test positive to a PCR test; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7596/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

Since the 16th January passengers arriving in Ireland from overseas (including those entering via Northern Ireland) are required to present evidence of a negative pre-departure RT-PCR test taken within 72 hours of travel upon arrival.

The RT-PCR test result must be shown prior to boarding and once again to border officials upon entry. Travellers that do not present a test result to border officials upon entry are committing an offence and may be subject to prosecution. Also, passengers arriving without a pre-travel PCR test result must now take one within 36 hours of arrival or will be committing an additional offense.

Exemptions from the pre-departure test requirement are in place for international transport workers, passengers travelling with an urgent medical need and for travellers with genuine humanitarian emergencies unable to obtain a pre-departure RT-PCR test before travel.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (272)

Alan Dillon

Question:

272. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Health the number of persons with cystic fibrosis in County Mayo; the position of persons with cystic fibrosis with the condition in the vaccine roll-out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7600/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

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

Regarding the second part, 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.

The next group to be vaccinated are those aged 70 and older in the following order: 85 and older, 80-84, 75-79, and 70-74. Vaccination of this group will begin this month.

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.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (273)

Joe Flaherty

Question:

273. Deputy Joe Flaherty asked the Minister for Health if consideration will be given to long-term dialysis patients in terms of their ranking in the groups for Covid-19 vaccination (details supplied); and if the group will be prioritised in the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out. [7603/21]

View answer

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.

The next group to be vaccinated are those aged 70 and older in the following order: 85 and older, 80-84, 75-79, and 70-74. Vaccination of this group will begin this month.

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 Waiting Lists

Questions (274)

Kieran O'Donnell

Question:

274. Deputy Kieran O'Donnell asked the Minister for Health the steps he is taking to address the three- to four-year waiting list for Down's syndrome children to see a paediatric rheumatologist nationally; the details of the waiting list for County Limerick; the steps being taken there to address the backlog; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7646/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

I sincerely regret that children can experience a long waiting time for hospital appointments and procedures, and I am conscious of the burden that this places on them and their families. This Government is committed to improving waiting times for all patients accessing hospital treatment across all specialties, including rheumatology.

Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) has advised the Department that during the initial phases of COVID-19, all face to face hospital outpatient reviews and most of the planned diagnostic tests, including MRI, were deferred in response to the pandemic. From June 2020 onwards, CHI at Crumlin had recommenced the majority of outpatient and diagnostic services, albeit at reduced numbers, due to public health guidelines on social distancing. However, due to the recent rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the community and the need to reduce the number of people coming into the children’s hospitals, CHI is prioritising emergency, urgent and time sensitive procedures and care. In so far as possible, most out-patient clinics have been moved to virtual or telephone clinics, unless specified by the consultant that a face to face review is needed.

Children’s Health Ireland is engaging with the HSE on a proposal to secure funding for an additional MRI scanner for Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin in order to meet the needs of the current and future MRI service. Children’s Health Ireland has further advised my Department that there is an active recruitment campaign for an additional Rheumatology Consultant underway. This additional position will allow for an increased number of patients to be seen, diagnosed and treatment initiated, as part of the comprehensive Rheumatology service.

In relation to the data requested by the Deputy, the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) collect, collate and publish waiting lists in respect of outpatient specialties and inpatient/daycase procedures. The NTPF have advised my Department that waiting times can be examined in terms of the appointment or procedure that a patient is waiting for, however, it is not possible to identify the number of patients waiting by clinical diagnosis, for example how many patients with Down Syndrome are on the waiting list.

The tables linked below provide details of the total number of patients awaiting a first Outpatient appointment with a Consultant Rheumatologist at Children's Health Ireland (CHI) at the end of December 2020, and the number of those patients with an area of residence in Limerick City and County.

CHI Rheumatology

Trade Union Recognition

Questions (275)

Martin Browne

Question:

275. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Health his views on the demands by an association (details supplied) of front-line paramedics who want to be represented by another association; his plans in regard to their campaign; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7654/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

During 2019, a branch of the Psychiatric Nurses Association called the National Ambulance Service Representative Association (NASRA) engaged in industrial action. The Psychiatric Nurses Association state that their industrial action is in connection with two substantive issues. The first is the automated deduction of union subscriptions. The second is that the HSE does not engage in negotiations with the PNA nor does it recognise the PNA as representing ambulance personnel.

It should be noted that the HSE deducts subscriptions at source for those ambulance staff that are members of a number of unions. These are SIPTU, FORSA and UNITE. The deduction of subscriptions is not a legal right but rather a concession granted to recognised unions.

NASRA, is a group which is not recognised by the HSE and, therefore, does not have negotiating rights. The PNA does not have negotiating rights for ambulance personnel. It is not possible to negotiate with a union which is not recognised as having negotiating rights for ambulance grades.

Industrial relations policy has had a long-standing objective of avoiding fragmentation in worker representation in public sector employments, and the trade union movement generally, to facilitate the orderly conduct of bargaining and other aspects of industrial relations.

Officials in my Department have engaged with HSE management in the past to explore ways forward to see if a resolution to the dispute can be progressed. These discussions have taken place, but an appropriate solution has yet to emerge.

On that basis, the fact remains that the PNA does not have negotiating rights for ambulance grades and hence the HSE cannot negotiate with them in respect of this group.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (276)

Emer Higgins

Question:

276. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Health if it will be ensured that nuns living in congregated settings are catered for appropriately in the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out plan. [7655/21]

View answer

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.

The next group to be vaccinated are those aged 70 and older in the following order: 85 and older, 80-84, 75-79, and 70-74. Vaccination of this group will begin this month.

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.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (277, 286)

Joan Collins

Question:

277. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Health if guidelines are in place in order that the Covid-19 mRNA vaccines will be offered to front-line healthcare workers who are pregnant (details supplied). [7670/21]

View answer

Bríd Smith

Question:

286. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Health the alternatives that are available to a general practice nurse who is 22 weeks pregnant and who under the new guidance issued on 5 January 2021 is scheduled to receive a vaccine (details supplied) and who will be part of the team rolling out a vaccine clinic at their practice; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that NIAC have advised that the vaccine should not be given during pregnancy; his views on the fact that even if this nurse receives the first dose they will be over 33 weeks pregnant by the time the second dose is scheduled to be given 12 weeks later; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7717/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 277 and 286 together.

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the deputy directly.

Nursing Home Accommodation

Questions (278)

Alan Kelly

Question:

278. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Health when a decision will be made on whether funding for a new nursing home (details supplied) in County Tipperary will be included in the new national development plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7676/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

Health capital investment decisions are informed by Programme for Government priorities, sectoral policies, strategies and reform initiatives as set out in Sláintecare. The Department of Health engage with the HSE in planning for and delivery of capital projects in the Health Sector.

The HSE is responsible for implementing these policies and strategies and the planning and delivery of health services and management of healthcare infrastructure. This includes delivery of projects included in the National Development Plan. All projects and programme proposals are subject to the detailed requirements of the Public Spending Code, including robust and rigorous project appraisal in order to obtain funding under the National Development Plan.

As the Health Service Executive is responsible for the delivery of public healthcare infrastructure projects, I have asked the HSE to respond to you directly in relation to this project.

Cancer Services

Questions (279)

Alan Kelly

Question:

279. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Health the status of the BreastCheck screening programme; the number of women who have been screened in each month since May 2020, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7680/21]

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.

Medicinal Products

Questions (280)

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

280. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to the ongoing frustration of a group (details supplied) not to recommend in favour of reimbursement of patisiran for the treatment of hereditary transthyretin-mediated hATTRA amyloidosis here; and the reason this drug is available to patients in Northern Ireland but not here. [7688/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

The HSE has statutory responsibility for decisions on pricing and reimbursement of medicines under the community drug schemes, in accordance with the provisions of the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013; therefore, the matter has been referred to the HSE for reply to the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (281)

Emer Higgins

Question:

281. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Health the position of pharmacists and pharmacy staff under the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7691/21]

View answer

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.

The next group to be vaccinated (Group 3) are those aged 70 and older in the following order: 85 and older, 80-84, 75-79, and 70-74. Vaccination of this group will begin this month.

Frontline healthcare workers (HCWs) in direct patient contact roles will be vaccinated in Group 2. This includes HCWs working in public, private, and voluntary settings. Other HCWs, not in direct patient contact, will be vaccinated in Group 4.

The HSE has published a document on the sequencing of COVID-19 vaccination of frontline healthcare workers, which provides more detail. It is available at the following link:

https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/news/newsfeatures/covid19-updates/covid-19-vaccine-materials/sequencing-of-covid-19-vaccination-of-frontline-healthcare-workers.pdf

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.

Alcohol Pricing

Questions (282)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

282. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Health the details of analysis carried out for his Department on the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol products given his concerns that its introduction here without a similar introduction in Northern Ireland could impact cross-Border trade (details supplied); if the result of this analysis has been published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7695/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

Section 11 of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act provides for a minimum price of 10c per gram of alcohol. The minimum price is determined solely by the amount of alcohol in the product. Minimum unit pricing sets a floor price below which alcohol cannot be sold. Alcohol can be sold above this price but not below it and evidence has shown that Minimum Unit Pricing will not affect the majority of alcohol products but targets only alcohol products that are currently very cheap relative to their strength.

The 2013 Government Decision which approved the implementation of minimum pricing in Ireland envisaged that it would be introduced here and in Northern Ireland simultaneously. This was to allay concerns that its introduction in the Republic only would impact cross-border trade.

Legislation to introduce a minimum unit price has not yet been introduced in Northern Ireland however in July last year, the Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann committed to a public consultation on minimum pricing for alcohol in Northern Ireland which will begin following the launch of the new Northern Ireland Substance Use Strategy early this year.

In 2013, my Department commissioned research from the University of Sheffield to estimate the effect of a range of Minimum Unit Prices, and other pricing policies, on low risk, increasing risk and high-risk drinkers. The findings included that:

- A ban on below-cost selling (implemented as a ban on selling alcohol for below the cost of duty and Value Added Tax) would have a negligible impact on alcohol consumption or related harms.

- A 10c per gram of alcohol or €1 for 10 grams of alcohol minimum unit price would be an effective measure to reduce alcohol consumption among high risk drinkers, leading to significant reductions in alcohol-related harm.

- Lower risk drinkers would experience smaller impacts on their alcohol consumption and spending as a result of the introduction of a 10c per gram of alcohol MUP.

- Large duty increases of between 53% and 78% would be required to achieve the same reductions in alcohol consumption and alcohol-attributable deaths as a 10c per gram of alcohol MUP. These duty increases would have a greater impact on the consumption and spending of low risk drinkers than a 10c per gram MUP.

- The introduction of a 10c per gram of alcohol MUP was estimated to reduce the amount that high risk drinkers spend on alcohol, in contrast to duty increases which would increase it. Larger duty increases lead to large increases in spending on alcohol for all drinkers.

Also, in 2013, CJP Consultants were commissioned by my Department to examine the following price control measures:

- Minimum Unit Pricing;

- The reintroduction of a ban on below cost selling;

- Making the sales price of alcohol cover at least VAT plus excise and

- Excise fiscal measures.

The Report concluded that Minimum Unit Pricing is the best policy option, it would prove very beneficial as a public health measure and it would need to be accompanied by other measures to make it most effective in lowering consumption.

In 2016, my Department commissioned further research from the University of Sheffield to evaluate the comparative impacts of Minimum Unit Pricing and alcohol taxation increases.

I am happy to provide the Deputy with this research if he wishes to have it.

Dental Services

Questions (283)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

283. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Health the reason medical card patients are currently not being seen for emergency medical dental treatment; when emergency dental treatment will be available for medical card holders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7704/21]

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.

Medical Cards

Questions (284)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

284. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Health the reason a person (details supplied) is being asked to provide a notice of assessment of form 11 tax return in order to process their medical card application when the PCRS has been furnished with a statement of liability in respect of their form 12 submission showing a trading loss; the reason the application is not being processed given that official documentary evidence from the Revenue Commissioners in the form of a statement of liability has been furnished in order to process same; if he will acknowledge the documentary evidence that has been furnished to the client registration unit showing a trading loss and process the application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7705/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Question No. 286 answered with Question No. 277.

Questions (285)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

285. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Health if a matter (details supplied) will be reviewed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7713/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

As the Deputy is aware, the Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19 provides a framework setting out Ireland's approach to managing and living with COVID-19.

The framework sets out five levels of response, each with a number of measures designed to help us all lower COVID-19 transmission and setting out what is permitted at that moment in time. It is framed to account for periods during which there is a low incidence of the disease, with isolated clusters and low community transmission, through to situations where there is a high or rapidly increasing incidence, widespread community transmission and the pandemic is escalating rapidly in Ireland and globally. It recognises the need for society and business to be allowed to continue as normally as possible and is designed so that either national or county level restrictions can be applied.

The Plan reflects a careful consideration of the impact of the introduction of restrictions on employment and livelihoods, keeping as many businesses open as possible at different stages, while acknowledging that some businesses and services are critical.

As I am sure the Deputy 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. For this reason, we are all asked to be extra careful. For now, we must act like we have the virus to protect those around us from infection.

As you are aware, Ireland is currently at level 5 of the plan. The current Covid-19 restrictions limit the attendance at funerals to 10 mourners. Priority must be given to families themselves in attending funerals, whether this is in the homes of the deceased or in the Funeral Home. Likewise attendance in churches and graveyards is restricted to families.

In this third wave we now sadly see a significant increase in the numbers of funerals. Concerns are being raised regarding the dangers of dropping our guard at funerals when we are at this critical time in trying to level off the deadly curve. Reports of significant numbers of people congregating in homes of bereaved persons and in funeral homes, or at churches and graveyards before or after services, are very concerning.

The inclement weather we have at this time of year can result in those lining funeral routes at times congregating in doorways of churches and other areas along the route to seek shelter. Every contact increases the risk of transmission of this highly contagious virus. Those wishing to express their condolence should do so through social media, online websites, text or card.

It is vital, despite our natural emotions and desire to be close to and hug other people, to respect the situation we find ourselves in as we try to convey our sympathies to bereaved families. It is important to remember our objective – to reduce the spread of the virus - and that we should all do what is right, even if it is different and difficult.

Further information on funerals can be found on the government website at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/2dc71-level-5/#attendance-at-funerals-limited-to-10.

Question No. 286 answered with Question No. 277.

Legislative Programme

Questions (287)

Denis Naughten

Question:

287. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health when the nursing home support (amendment) Bill will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7722/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

The Nursing Homes Support Scheme, commonly referred to as the Fair Deal Scheme, has been in operation for over 10 years and there is broad agreement that the Scheme operates well and continues to provide appropriate financial assistance where it is required.

However, it is recognised that the Act, in its current form, does not place caps on the financial assessment of family owned and operated farms or businesses when calculating the means to pay for nursing home care. This places a potentially onerous burden on family successors and could challenge the future viability of these productive assets.

Therefore, the Department of Health has proposed a policy change to the Scheme, to cap contributions based on farm and business assets at three years where a family successor commits to working the productive asset. The stated policy objective of the legislation is to introduce additional safeguards in the Scheme to further protect the viability and sustainability of family farms and businesses that will be passed down to the next generation of the family to continue to work them as productive assets to provide for their livelihood.

This change was approved by Government and underwent pre-legislative scrutiny in the last Dáil. Progress on the development of the Bill was negatively impacted by the dissolution of the last Dáil and by the COVID-19 pandemic. The response to the pandemic has been and continues to be a national and public health priority. However, work on this legislation has continued to progress. I requested a waiver to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny from the Business Committee, given this was already undertaken in the previous Dáil, and this waiver was granted on 4th February 2021. I have met with the Attorney General to discuss this legislation, and there has been an ongoing and active engagement between the Department of Health and the Office of the Attorney General on the development of the legislation, which will be brought to the Houses of the Oireachtas at the earliest possible opportunity. It is on the priority list for publication in the Spring legislative session.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (288)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

288. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Health if all dentists will be eligible to participate in the roll-out of the Covid 19 vaccine or if it will be limited to dentists with a contract with the HSE or who are members of an organisation (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7728/21]

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.