Ba mhaith liom ceist na n-ospidéal a phlé leis an Tánaiste, go háirithe ó thaobh na leapacha in ICU. Tá a fhios againn ón eolas a tháinig chun solais inné go bhfuil 13 dár n-ospidéil ar fud an Stáit nach bhfuil leaba ar bith ICU ar fáil iontu, agus i seacht gcinn eile níl ach leaba amháin le fáil. Tá an fhoireann atá ag obair sna hospidéil faoi bhrú millteanach. Ag an am céanna, tá a fhios againn ó Be On Call for Ireland go bhfuil níos mó ná 1,500 duine, dochtúir agus altra atá sásta dul ag obair inár n-ospidéil ach níl conradh faighte acu. Fosta, tá cúpla céad altra ann atá sásta theacht chun an tír seo ach níl an Roinn Dlí agus Cirt ag ceadú a gcuid visas in am. Tá sé ag glacadh trí mhí. Caithfear níos mó a dhéanamh, gan dabht, ar an ábhar seo.
In the past number of days, the situation in our hospitals has continued to deteriorate due to the number of Covid-19 patients requiring hospitalisation. The daily operations update on the situation in our acute hospitals is one that makes for very grim reading. The latest report available, from yesterday, states that there are now 13 hospitals without any ICU capacity, seven other hospitals that just have one ICU bed left and that a sizeable majority of patients in ICU beds throughout the State are now there due to Covid-19. ICU capacity, we are told, is expected to be used up by the weekend, as reported in the media. I want, first, to express my solidarity with the staff in all of our hospitals and, indeed, the patients. Our staff are experiencing at the moment something that is unimaginable. It is a very worrying time. They are overworked, exhausted and anxious about the period ahead and many of them are angry that they have been left in this situation. The least we can do here is thank them for their work and express our support for them at this extremely difficult time.
Over the summer, as the Tánaiste will be aware, Sinn Féin warned that capacity needed to be ramped up. This did not happen in sufficient ways. The IMO warned the Government, upon publication of the winter plan, that it was insufficient and that more needed to be done. The failure to build in the necessary capacity has left us again relying on surge capacity and the option of using private hospitals. These remain the only options at the Government's disposal at the minute to alleviate the situation. My own local hospital in Letterkenny has just a handful of acute beds left throughout the hospital at this time and no available ICU beds. I know from speaking to staff at the front line that they are very anxious about the coming weeks and they are very worried. They know that we cannot conjure up capacity in a couple of days and there is a huge job of work to ensure our medium-term and long-term capacity is expanded.
However, there are a number of things we can do to help to alleviate the situation in the short term. The deal with the private hospitals is one of them, a deal which provides one third capacity. Does the Tánaiste believe this is a sufficient amount of capacity? Does he believe it should be increased and have discussions begun to increase that capacity? There remains available, through the Be on Call for Ireland initiative, a pool of approximately 1,500 healthcare workers. Many of these are job-ready, including nurses, doctors and other staff willing to take up work in our hospitals but who have not been deployed. Why have they not been deployed and when will all the nurses and doctors who are making themselves available be deployed in our public services?
In addition, there are currently serious delays in processing atypical working visas, which is preventing the recruitment of healthcare staff. We are told that it is currently taking ten to 12 weeks to process the applications for these visas. The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI, had to cancel 200 examinations for nurses due to the delays in processing the applications in January alone. Last March, the Department was taking 48 hours to process these applications; now it is taking up to three months. The reality is that if it were not for the Department dragging its heels, we could have 200 additional nurses in Ireland by the end of the month. These nurses are willing to leave their own home country to come to Ireland to work in our public health system at a time when the virus is as its worst. We need to do a lot better. Why is the Department dragging its heels on this issue?