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Friday, 3 Dec 2021

Written Answers Nos. 201-221

Obesity Levels

Questions (201)

David Stanton

Question:

201. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Health the measures taken to tackle obesity in the context of the Healthy Ireland Framework; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59240/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

A Healthy Weight for Ireland, the Obesity Policy and Action Plan (OPAP), was launched in September 2016 under the Healthy Ireland Framework.  The OPAP covers a 10-year period up to 2025 and aims to reverse obesity trends, prevent health complications and reduce the overall burden for individuals, families, the health system, and the wider society and economy.  The Plan recognises that obesity is a complex, multi-faceted problem and needs a multi-pronged solution, with every sector of society playing its part.  The OPAP is based on the best available evidence in the Irish and international literature, and is informed by established international models and frameworks.  

A Progress Report on the implementation of the actions of the OPAP was published in February 2021.  Some of the actions highlighted in the Progress Report, as well as actions completed since its publication, are outlined below.  

New Nutrition Standards for School Food, with an initial focus on school meal programmes funded by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, were developed and published in September 2017.  New Healthy Eating Guidelines, Healthy Ireland Food Pyramid and supporting Healthy Food for Life resources were published in 2016 and disseminated and communicated in 2017, including to all primary and post-primary schools.  Healthy Eating Guidelines for 1-4 Year Olds and a Children’s Food Pyramid were published in October 2020.  

A Sugar-Sweetened Drinks Tax was introduced on 1st May 2018.  The aim of the tax was to reduce consumption of added sugar in drinks, and to encourage reformulation of products by the drinks industry. 

A five-year child obesity communications campaign – "START" -from safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland was launched in 2017. It aims to inspire, empower and support parents to start building and persist with healthy lifestyle habits in the family to prevent childhood obesity. The Healthy Ireland fund was also used in 2021 to fund the "Let's get Set" campaign to encourage people to develop healthy habits including how to eat healthily. Healthy Ireland also partnered with Sport Ireland with the "Let's Get Back" campaign to encourage people get back to sport and physical activity.   

A Healthy Eating, Active Living Programme was established as a Policy Priority Programme within the HSE. The programme supports work in the education sector and works with parents, families and communities in delivering a more co-ordinated approach to prevention and early intervention in child obesity. 

A National Clinical Lead for Obesity was appointed in the HSE in 2017, and a Clinical Advisory Group and National Obesity Management Clinical Programme were established.  This developed the Model of Care for the Management of Overweight and Obesity, which was published in March 2021.

A Roadmap for Food Product Reformulation in Ireland, which deals with the reduction of levels of saturated fat, sugar and salt in processed foods, has been completed and will be published in December 2021.

A new healthy weight citizen engagement campaign is being developed to be rolled out in 2022. As part of the Sláintecare Healthy Community Programme, 19 Community Food and Nutrition posts will be filled in 2022.  The roles will have a particular focus on working with families and children to support them with healthy eating and nutrition within these 19 communities.

Health Services

Question No. 203 answered with Question No. 130.

Questions (202)

Mark Ward

Question:

202. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Health the way he plans to regulate the delivery of services across each CHO area in order that persons can get the access of care based on need not based on their postcode; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59012/21]

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.

Question No. 203 answered with Question No. 130.

Nursing Homes

Question No. 205 answered with Question No. 136.

Questions (204)

Colm Burke

Question:

204. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Health the current status of his Department’s value for money review examining HSE nursing homes costs; when it is likely to be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59357/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

In March 2018, the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee recommended that the Government undertake a Value for Money review to identify, quantify and analyse the reasons for any cost differential between private/voluntary and public nursing homes, and following analysis, to make recommendations for improving the value for money obtained by the Health sector. 

The review was undertaken under the direction of a Steering Committee led by an independent chairman and comprising representatives of the Department of Health (DoH), the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), the Health Service Executive (HSE), and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). 

The Review has taken longer to complete than originally anticipated.  Initially, delays were encountered while attempting to obtain sufficient private sector data to allow for a meaningful comparison between the sectors. As work was progressing to resolve this issue, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. As a result, the review was temporarily paused in order to focus all resources in responding to the crisis.

The Review has been completed and has been signed off by the Steering Committee.  In line with the requirements of the Public Spending Code, a Memo for Government, to include the Department’s response to the recommendations of the Review, is due to issue shortly.

Question No. 205 answered with Question No. 136.

Vaccination Programme

Questions (206)

Violet-Anne Wynne

Question:

206. Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne asked the Minister for Health the reasons for the relocation of the vaccination centre to Ennis General Hospital; the reason this decision was made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59226/21]

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.

Primary Care Services

Questions (207)

James Lawless

Question:

207. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Health the number of persons currently waiting for a primary care psychology appointment in each local health office area in CHO7; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59247/21]

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.

Health Services Staff

Questions (208)

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

208. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Health the number of public health consultants working in the health service; the way this compares with the end of 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59361/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

On 14 April 2021, an agreement was reached between health service management and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) on a reformed public health model in Ireland involving the establishment of the position of Consultant in Public Health Medicine and providing for the creation of 84 consultant posts in public health. The agreement specifically provided for the recruitment of 34 priority posts by end June 2022, 30 further posts by end June 2023 and a final 20 posts by end December 2023. 

I am pleased to confirm that arrangements for filling the initial 34 Consultant posts by end June 2022 are on target and all of these posts are to be advertised by the end of the year. 

I also note that the most recent data from the HSE confirms that the pandemic workforce plan is 83% complete. Of the total of 254 posts, a total of 207.6 posts have been accepted, with 162 of these commenced.

Medical Cards

Questions (209)

Dara Calleary

Question:

209. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Health the number of medical cards currently being provided on an emergency basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59072/21]

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. 

Grant Payments

Questions (210)

Seán Canney

Question:

210. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Health his plans to provide a mobility allowance to persons who have been left without such an allowance for a decade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [57014/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

The Government decided to close the Motorised Transport Grant and Mobility Allowance administrative Schemes in 2013.  This was on foot of the reports of the Ombudsman in 2011 and 2012 regarding the legal status of both Schemes, in the context of the Equal Status Acts.

The Government also decided to continue payment of the monthly Mobility Allowance on an interim basis, to the 4,700 people who were in receipt of the Mobility Allowance at the time the Scheme was closed.

Other transport supports available to people with disabilities include;

- The Free Travel Scheme operated by the Department of Social Protection;

- The Revenue Commissioners' Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Scheme; and

- Measures funded under the Department of Rural and Community Development CLAR Programme, to provide grants to voluntary organisations providing transport for people with significant mobility issues.

At the whole of Government level, the National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021 sets the overall framework for the equal participation of people with disabilities in society.  Under the Strategy,  the Department of Transport, has responsibility for the continued development of availability of accessible public transport and is committed to the continued development of accessible public transport in recognition of the importance of such services to the lives of people with disabilities. 

Work is continuing on the policy proposals for the provision of transport supports for people with disabilities.  Recent developments which will impact on the policy options include the following:

- The ongoing progress by the Department of Transport in providing accessible public transport nationally and that Department's review of active travel and public transport policy, including accessible public transport;  

- The Department of Social Protection Cost of Disability Study which will inform policy direction in relation to the provision of adequate supports to meet the needs of people with disabilities, including transport costs;

- The Working Group established under Action 104 of the National Disability Inclusion Strategy which was established to lead a review of all Government funded transport and mobility schemes for people with disabilities; and

- The review of the Disabled Drivers and Passengers (Tax Concessions) Scheme by the Department of Finance. 

The Government is committed to finding a long-term, equitable solution, which meets the transport needs of those people with disabilities, with the most significant challenges.

Covid-19 Tests

Questions (211)

David Cullinane

Question:

211. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Health his plans to expand access to antigen and PCR testing; the status of tracing capacity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59115/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

Testing and contact-tracing continues to be a key component of the Government’s response to the pandemic.

Demand for testing at this time is very high, with almost 220,000 tests conducted in the last seven days. This demand on the testing and tracing system is due to the high level of infection currently being experienced in the community.

The HSE is making every effort necessary to address the very significant demand arising for PCR testing. This includes making arrangements with private providers to add new capacity, extending the opening hours of swabbing centres and ongoing recruitment and redeployment to swabbing teams, and doubling the number of National Ambulance Service mobile teams.

The HSE operates testing centres at locations around the country, details of which are available on the HSE website at hse.ie. The HSE also continues to monitor the need for testing centres and the most appropriate locations at any given time. Individuals who have a medical condition that prevents them from getting to a test centre can be referred by a GP for a home test.

These measures have increased the base community PCR capacity from 15,000 to 25,000 tests per day. Including acute hospital capacity, the HSE is now able to deliver 29,500 tests a day.

People using the self-referral online portal to book a test may find, at times, that no appointments are available. Appointments become available at various times during the day so people should try again later. If anybody with symptoms has concerns about booking a test, they should contact their GP.

As a result of this very high demand, the HSE is prioritising those who are clinically referred and symptomatic close contacts.

Antigen testing is already being used widely across the State, supported by the health service, including for testing of asymptomatic, vaccinated close contacts of a confirmed case, and in pilot programmes involving staff in early childcare facilities, staff and students in further and higher education, staff in food production facilities and in residential Care Facilities (RCFs) for Older Persons. From Monday 29th November, as an additional measure to support parents and schools, free antigen tests are now offered for primary school children who are identified as close contacts as part of a pod in which there was a confirmed case of COVID-19.  Antigen tests will be offered to a full class when two or more confirmed cases arise outside of a single pod in a class within a seven-day period.

It is important to reiterate the public health advice that anybody waiting for a test who has symptoms of Covid-19, should continue to self-isolate until they are at least 48 hours’ symptom free. This should minimize any impact where a person may have to wait a number of days for a test.

The role of testing and contact tracing, as part of the wider public health response, has been under ongoing review throughout the pandemic and will continue to be reviewed and amended in line with the epidemiological profile of the disease, its impact on healthcare utilisation and outcomes, the vaccination status of the population and ECDC guidance.

Care of the Elderly

Questions (212)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

212. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Health if he will report on the reopening of day centres for older people following closure in 2020. [59348/21]

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.

Health Services Staff

Questions (213)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

213. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Health if he will ensure that all student nurses are paid properly for their placements particularly considering the current health crisis many of them are expected to fill in for fully qualified nurses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58590/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

As the Deputy will be aware, a key Government priority is to protect and support the education of all students, including student nurses and midwives, especially during these times as we continuing to deal with the challenges posed COVID-19.

In this context, I had arranged for a short-term review of student nurse and midwife allowances to be  undertaken.  This was conducted by Professor Tom Collins at the end of 2020.  He was tasked with examining any additional challenges that the Pandemic may have created for student nurses and midwives on supernumerary clinical placement and final-year internship placement.  I accepted all the recommendations that Professor Collins made.  This included the payment of a Pandemic Placement Grant (PPG) of €100 per week for each week of the supernumerary clinical placements from January 2021.

I should point out that, as supernumerary students, they are not included in the staffing complement, they learn under the supervision of a registered nurse/midwife and are not accountable for patient care. Over a four year period, student nurses and midwives have 81 weeks of clinical placement, 45 weeks of which are at supernumerary placement status and 36 weeks are on internship placement. As students, rather than employees, the primary focus of their placement is on “learning” rather than “doing”- even if the learning is mostly through doing.  The objective is that through their supernumerary and intern status, students on placement can focus on the development of the skills, knowledge and attitudes required to develop competence to practise as a registered nurse or midwife.  Clinical placement ensures this learning takes place on the frontline in a supervised and protected environment.  

It is important to emphasise, therefore, that supernumerary students on clinical placement are not employees of the healthcare setting of their placement. Indeed, it is their status as higher education students which is fundamental to the character of the graduate training programme and any move towards the redefinition of the students as employees would undermine the intrinsic nature of this programme.

In addition to the short-term review, I also directed that a second longer-term independent review of student nurse and midwife clinical placement allowances take place.  This review was conducted by Mr Sean McHugh and included an examination of the existing allowances payable to student nurses and midwives on clinical placement. 

Following this review I announced, on 4 November 2021, that the Government had approved my proposal to provide significant additional supports, worth €12m, for student nurses and midwives while attending their clinical placements.  These temporary measures will assist these students while work is being undertaken by my Department to progress the recommendations arising from the longer-term review.

Among these temporary measures, I extended the Pandemic Placement Grant of €100 per week to all eligible nursing and midwifery students on supernumerary placement, backdating it to September 2021.

Furthermore, while my Department is developing detailed proposals to give effect to the recommendation relating to intern pay, the PPG shall now be extended to 4th year nursing and midwifery internship students at the rate of 50%, commencing in January 2022.  This will have the effect of increasing supports by €1,800 for this cohort.

The Government is also providing additional support to supernumerary students needing overnight accommodation away from their normal place of residence to attend some of their clinical placements. This includes increasing the cap on the vouched accommodation allowance, as outlined in Department of Health Circular 09/2004.  The cap on the vouched accommodation allowance is being almost doubled from €50.79 per week to €100 per week of placement, and will be backdated to September 2021. 

Mr. McHugh's report sets out recommendations to enhance the current Travel and Subsistence scheme for students in attending their supernumerary clinical placements. I will consider these further so that a permanent enhanced scheme can be developed that will provide a targeted and more equitable approach to supporting students in undertaking supernumerary clinical placements, to be in place from September 2022.  

I am grateful to Professor Collins and Mr. McHugh for their Reports, both of which have helped my consideration of how best to support our student nurses and midwives as they continue their undergraduate education.

Disability Services

Questions (214)

Violet-Anne Wynne

Question:

214. Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne asked the Minister for Health the respite supports that are available to families of children with autism at present across the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59228/21]

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.

Disability Services

Questions (215)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

215. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Health if he will provide details on the access to disability services for children in CHO 4; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [57689/21]

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.

Disability Services

Questions (216)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

216. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Health the reason that persons with disabilities are losing key services when they turn 18 years of age: if his attention has been drawn to instances in Cork in which people are not getting access to day services; if he has engaged with service providers in relation to this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [57690/21]

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.

Disability Services

Questions (217)

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

217. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Health the progress being made on delivery of a seven-day service for (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59358/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

As the Deputy's question relates to a service matter, I have arranged for the question to be referred to the HSE for direct reply to the Deputy as soon as possible. 

Health Services

Questions (218)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

218. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Health the status of the backlog of assessments of needs for children; the number of applications received and completed by county in each of the years 2018 to 2020 and to date in 2021, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59461/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

As the Deputy's question relates to a service issue, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply. 

Disability Services

Question No. 220 answered with Question No. 219.

Questions (219, 220)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

219. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Health when a report (details supplied) will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58419/21]

View answer

Pearse Doherty

Question:

220. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Health when the families of the victims of abuse at a home (details supplied) will have sight of the full contents of a report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58420/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 219 and 220 together.

The HSE commissioned the National Independent Review Panel to carry out a review of a residential service for adults with a disability.  The review report, the Brandon Report, focuses on matters of a sensitive nature, and how they were managed.

 The HSE has developed a publication plan which it will implement once a decision on the date of publication of the report’s executive summary is finalised.  It is important to note that this publication plan will require briefings to families in the first instance and the provision of appropriate supports.

The HSE has been requested by An Garda Síochána not to publish any report at this time.  

I will continue to engage with the HSE and its Board on this matter in the weeks ahead.

Question No. 220 answered with Question No. 219.

Disability Services

Questions (221)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

221. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Health the planned allocation of supports for the disability sector as announced in Budget 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59460/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

The Government is committed to improving the lives of people with disabilities and their families through enhancing the quality of services and supports they receive.  The Programme for Government sets out an ambitious agenda for the provision of disability services.

Budget 2022 will provide €50m to support existing levels of service as well as new funding of €55m. 

The 2022 HSE National Service Plan is being developed.  The Plan will set out the type and volume of health and personal social services to be provided by the HSE in 2022, in line with priorities set out by the Minister for Health, and the longer-term transformation agenda for health and social care services in Ireland.  

The quantum of services to be provided by the HSE is being considered as part of the National Service Planning process. The Service Plan will be finalised in the coming weeks. 

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