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Tuesday, 14 Dec 2021

Written Answers Nos. 555-571

Departmental Reviews

Question No. 556 answered with Question No. 555.

Question No. 557 answered with Question No. 555.

Questions (555, 556, 557)

David Cullinane

Question:

555. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Health if dedicated technical support and a formalised decision-making process for a health technology review has been given to NIAC to address the deficiencies identified in the briefing he received upon entering office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61180/21]

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David Cullinane

Question:

556. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Health if the recommendations from the internal departmental review 2016, on the development of an immunisation policy to support the effective, transparent and accountable operation of NIAC, have been implemented to address the deficiencies identified in the briefing that he received upon entering office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61181/21]

View answer

David Cullinane

Question:

557. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Health if NIAC has been restructured since he took office as recommended in the briefing he received upon entering office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61182/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 555 to 557, inclusive, together.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) is an independent voluntary committee, comprised of expert members, set up by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) at the request of the Department of Health and hosted by the RCPI.

The NIAC makes recommendations on immunisation policy to my Department. Its recommendations are based on the prevalence of the relevant disease in Ireland and international best practice in relation to immunisation. It continues to revise these recommendations to allow for the introduction of new vaccines in Ireland and to keep abreast of changes in the patterns of disease.

The NIAC has played an integral role during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing robust, evidenced based advice to my Department which has informed and supported decision making in relation to the use of COVID-19 vaccines in Ireland.

In order to sustain a systematic, evidence-informed approach to the generation of advice by the NIAC in relation to vaccines, immunisation, and related health matters, my Department has been examining improved structural options for the committee.

It is important that we have an effective, fit for purpose, transparent and accountable immunisation advisory function in Ireland and my Department is currently engaged in preliminary work in relation to the restructuring of the NIAC in order to facilitate its continuing work.

Question No. 556 answered with Question No. 555.
Question No. 557 answered with Question No. 555.

Health Services Staff

Questions (558)

Neale Richmond

Question:

558. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Health , further to Parliamentary Question Nos. 369 and 370 of 11 November 2021, the assaults recorded on nurses and doctors in each of the years 2015 to 2020 and to date in 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61187/21]

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.

Mental Health Services

Questions (559)

Paul Murphy

Question:

559. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Health if access to services will be provided in the case of a person (details supplied); and the supports that can be provided to the family. [61188/21]

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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.

Proposed Legislation

Questions (560, 574)

Neasa Hourigan

Question:

560. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for Health the progress made to date on a public health (obesity) Act, in particular the work undertaken to examine restrictions on promotion and advertising aimed at children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61197/21]

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Patrick Costello

Question:

574. Deputy Patrick Costello asked the Minister for Health the progress that has been made on the commitment in the programme for Government to work with key stakeholders to introduce a public health obesity Bill, including examining restrictions on promotion and advertising aimed at children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61253/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 560 and 574 together.

The Programme for Government “Our Shared Future” contains a commitment to “Work with key stakeholders to introduce a Public Health Obesity Act, including examining restrictions on promotion and advertising aimed at children”.

The policy instrument for obesity in Ireland is “A Healthy Weight for Ireland’, the Obesity Policy and Action Plan (OPAP), which was launched in September 2016 as part of 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 OPAP provides for a mid-term review to be carried out, which will lead to a refreshed and updated Plan with a revised set of actions for the remaining lifetime of the OPAP. This review provides the opportunity to consider developments and new evidence since the publication of the OPAP, and to assess which elements might best be further progressed by legislation or by other means.

The review will be informed by an evaluation of the OPAP which is being carried out by the Health Research Board Centre for Health and Diet Research, University College Cork. This process has included an assessment through an online survey by numerous experts and stakeholders, and the final report is expected to be received shortly. A strong evidence base will be required for any new legislative measures, and the review of the OPAP will build on the work already underway to identify gaps in the implementation of the Plan, including where actions need to be progressed, whether by legislative or other means, and where further research is required. This will input into what measures should be included in a Public Health Obesity Act, and stakeholder consultation will also be an important element of the considerations in relation to this.

In relation to the issues around advertising and marketing of unhealthy foods aimed at children, Ireland is currently co-leading a Work Package in this area under the EU Joint Action “Best ReMaP” (Best practices in Reformulation, Marketing and public Procurement). The title of the Work Package is “Best practices in reducing marketing of unhealthy food products to children and adolescents”. Work has been underway under this Joint Action since October 2020 and there are 17 Member States participating.

Hospital Staff

Questions (561)

Réada Cronin

Question:

561. Deputy Réada Cronin asked the Minister for Health when the neurology unit of Tallaght Hospital, which serves north County Kildare, will have its recommended full complement of 20 specialist neurology nurses as opposed to the 3.5 currently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61199/21]

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.

Cybersecurity Policy

Questions (562)

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

562. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Health the steps in place to ensure that the health system is protected from cyberattacks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61201/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

The CONTI Ransomware attack on the HSE of 14th May 2021 resulted in an immediate loss of almost all ICT systems, applications and communications networks needed to support the delivery of health and social care services. As an immediate response, the HSE took all systems offline to reduce the risk of further contagion, while the situation was assessed. Funding provided this year addressed the immediate risks to the HSE, including the recovery of systems and data affected by the attack, upgrades and replacement of legacy systems and the establishment of a Security Operations Centre for enhanced monitoring of threats.

There is a need for sustained investment in ICT in the health service in the coming years to protect the health system from the risk of future attacks and the 2022 Budget includes capital and revenue funding for the HSE to enhance cyber resilience. This investment will support the maintenance of a modern and secure ICT infrastructure, to mitigate against the impact of future attacks.

Considerable work is also underway at government level to protect against future attacks. The Department of Health and particularly the HSE, as the key target of the cyber-attack in May, are working closely with the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer and the National Cyber Security Centre and its partners to strengthen ICT infrastructure and ensure that health services are resilient to future cyber incidents.

Departments are also moving to the “build to share” Government infrastructure model which protects the working environment and monitors malicious activity more efficiently. Plans are in place to establish the National Cyber Security Centre on a statutory footing and to increase staff numbers to support the critical work that they do in protecting infrastructure from future cyber-attacks.

Health Services

Questions (563)

Neasa Hourigan

Question:

563. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for Health if his Department will allow the North Inner-City Drug and Alcohol Task Force to proceed with the appointment of its elected chair and to go ahead with organising meetings attended by all its members, including statutory representatives in order that it can carry out its essential work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61205/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

The Department of Health has engaged with the task force on the appointment of an independent chairperson to drive the work of the task force and to broaden the membership of the task force to include all local stakeholders, in line with the official task force handbook.

The Department supports the autonomy of the task force to appoint its chairperson and believes the collective membership is the appropriate entity to appoint a chairperson, on a consensual basis. It is important that the membership of the task force is afforded the opportunity to decide how it wishes to proceed on the appointment of an independent chairperson.

The Dept urged the outgoing chair to engage with all members of the task force - community, voluntary and statutory – to consider these matters on a consensual basis. Unfortunately, the task force leadership and members have not been able to resolve the impasse in the appointment of an independent chairperson of the task force.

The Department is aware that the North Inner City Drugs & Alcohol Task Force is no longer in a position to function, following the resignation of the chairperson and company directors.

I am committed to working with all stakeholders in the north inner city to establish effective, inclusive and transparent governance of the task force and of the funding that it allocates.

My officials are currently engaged in a consultation process with stakeholders on a process to re-establish the task force. I expect to shortly receive a report that sets out the next steps in re-establishing the task force.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (564, 569, 609)

Patrick Costello

Question:

564. Deputy Patrick Costello asked the Minister for Health his plans to amend the Covid-19 vaccination certificate system to include information on booster shots; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61208/21]

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Kathleen Funchion

Question:

569. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Health his plans to extend vaccine passports to include booster shots given that several persons have been told they will need proof of boosters to travel to certain EU countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61230/21]

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Jackie Cahill

Question:

609. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Health if updated vaccination certificates will be issued to persons who have received the booster dose outlining that they have received the booster; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61586/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 564, 569 and 609 together.

Preparations are underway interdepartmentally with a view to issuing EU Digital COVID Certificates reflecting additional doses.

This follows and is in line with the Implementing Decision adopted by the Commission on 17 November which lays down the technical specifications relating to additional Covid vaccination doses, and further discussions at EU level.

Theses specifications, concerning the value sets established on semantic level to allow uniform technical implementations for the EU Digital COVID Certificate, are being considered to ensure continued interoperability to support free movement across the EU.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (565)

David Stanton

Question:

565. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Health further to Parliamentary Question No. 322 of 12 November 2020, if the procurement strategy for future supplies of PPE to the health service has been fully developed; if it includes a strategy for indigenous supply; if so, the details of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61214/21]

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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.

Covid-19 Tests

Questions (566)

Paul Kehoe

Question:

566. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Health the arrangements that can be put in place to facilitate a person travelling to Ireland on a long-haul journey who will not be in a position to get a PCR test within 72 hours of arriving in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61215/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

At present, passengers travelling to Ireland require a valid test result (subject to limited exemptions). This requirement has been introduced on a temporary basis as part of our response to emergence of the Omicron variant. Travel requirements are kept under regular review based on the evolving international epidemiological situation and as understanding of the Omicron variant develops.

Depending on a person's travel history and health status, tests that may be accepted for travel can be a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival or a negative antigen test taken within 48 hours prior to arrival. These timeframes are consistent with advices of the EU and the ECDC on travel related testing and with the aims of reducing in transit or travel related transmission of COVID-19.

Full details on international travel policy and the types of tests accepted are published at www.gov.ie/travel.

Dental Services

Questions (567)

Gerald Nash

Question:

567. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Health if he will provide an updated list of dental practices that participate in the dental treatment services scheme in counties Louth and Meath, respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61217/21]

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 Pandemic

Question No. 569 answered with Question No. 564.

Questions (568)

Matt Shanahan

Question:

568. Deputy Matt Shanahan asked the Minister for Health the specific health guidance that relates to the European advice note (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61220/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

The requirements for travel are kept under regular review based on the evolving international epidemiological situation.

At present, and as part of our response to the emergence of the Omicron variant, passengers travelling to Ireland require a valid test result (subject to limited exemptions). A person may be denied boarding by their carrier if they do not have a valid test result. Where a person travels to Ireland without a test result, they are required to take a PCR test within 36 hours of arrival and to quarantine until the result is returned. Full details on international travel policy and the types of tests accepted are published at www.gov.ie/travel.

More stringent measures apply to travel from seven countries considered high-risk in the context of the Omicron variant. Persons may only travel from these countries to Ireland if they are a citizen or resident of Ireland, the UK or the EU. Passengers are required to have a negative pre-departure test and to quarantine on arrival. PCR testing is required at days 2 and day 8 after arrival. If both tests return negative, the quarantine period ends. If one test returns positive, the quarantine period is extended 10 days beyond the date of the positive test. Full details are published at www.gov.ie/travel.

Question No. 569 answered with Question No. 564.

Hospital Waiting Lists

Questions (570)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

570. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Health if he has responded to a letter from an advocacy group (details supplied) which was sent to his office on 16 November 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61233/21]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

In relation to the query raised by the Deputy, I can confirm that a response has issued to the letter from the advocacy group concerned.

I acknowledge that waiting times for many hospital procedures and appointments are unacceptably long. It is of particular regret that children can experience long waiting times for orthopaedic treatment, especially for time sensitive procedures, and I remain acutely aware of the impact that this has on children and their families.

As part of Children's Health Ireland’s (CHI) paediatric orthopaedic service, most complex orthopaedic cases are treated at Crumlin and Temple Street, with Crumlin providing specialised multi-disciplinary treatment for the most complex patients. The National Orthopaedic Hospital at Cappagh provides additional capacity for the treatment of less complex orthopaedic patients, including routine scoliosis procedures. By using the capacity provided by Cappagh, CHI can free up space in order that complex orthopaedic procedures can be carried out centrally at CHI sites.

More specifically, additional theatre capacity at the National Orthopaedic Hospital Cappagh commenced on the 26 April 2021 for daycase surgery. CHI has advised the Department of Health that this should result in a positive impact in reducing long waiting times for general orthopaedics, in addition to consequential capacity gains for scoliosis patients. In 2022 CHI is planning to undertake a range of inpatient, daycase and outpatient orthopaedic appointments in Cappagh.

In 2018 Children’s Health Ireland was provided with an additional €9 million in funding to address paediatric orthopaedic waiting lists, including the provision of scoliosis services. This funding is recurring and has been provided in the base HSE allocation each year since 2018. The additional funding supported the recruitment of approximately 60 WTEs in 2018 and 2019 to enable the expansion of paediatric orthopaedic services.

Funding proposals submitted to the HSE by Children’s Health Ireland for increased investment in paediatric orthopaedic services in 2022 will be decided as part of the finalisation of the Waiting List Action Plan 2022. In addition, the HSE has advised my Department that a proposal to fund an additional theatre at Temple Street is currently progressing through the normal HSE capital approval process. Improving access to scheduled care capacity remains a priority for the Department of Health as work continues to finalise next years’ Access to Care fund. For 2022 an additional allocation of €250 million, comprised of €200 million to the HSE and €50 million to the National Treatment Purchase Fund has been provided in respect of work to reduce hospital and community waiting lists.

In addition, my Department, the HSE and the National Treatment Purchase Fund are also working on a Multi Annual Waiting List Plan to bring waiting lists in line with Sláintecare targets over the coming years. This process will be overseen by a Ministerial Taskforce, chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Health and includes representatives from the HSE and National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Disability Services

Questions (571)

Holly Cairns

Question:

571. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Health the steps he is taking to ensure that all acute hospitals, community hospitals, health centres and primary health care centres are fully wheelchair accessible. [61238/21]

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.

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