MAJOR reforms will have to be delivered to transform health services in the Mid-West, particularly in the area of elderly care, according to a local Dáil deputy.
If there is a second Covid-19 wave in the Mid-West during the winter, Deputy Michael McNamara has warned that it would not be acceptable if Covid-19 patients were left lying in trolleys in hospital corridors transmitting the virus.
“We can’t continue with the current model for our health service and elderly care. We can’t be bringing patients into an overcrowded University Hospital Limerick (UHL).
“There will have to profound changes in the way acute patients are treated because we can’t have overcrowding any more.
“A stitch in time saves nine. Billions of Euro have been provided to deal with Covid-19. If a fraction of this money was spent improving our health service, we may not have needed to take such draconian measures.
“The reason such draconian measures had to be taken was because our health service didn’t have the capacity to deal with a major outbreak of the virus.
“The Irish health system works at 100% capacity compared to the German system that works at 80% capacity.
He described his last first six months as “challenging” and extremely busy as he has often chaired the new Special Committee on Covid-19 Response six times a week compared to other Dáil committees that convene once a week or every fortnight.
He said lessons had to be learned from Northern Italy where the virus spiralled in Lombardy due to the decision to treat most of their Covid-19 cases in overcrowded hospitals compared with a different strategy of treating patients in their own homes in Veneto.
However, he stressed that seriously ill Covid-19 patients have to be treated in hospital.
The former Labour Deputy is a member of the Independent Group of deputies, which includes Marian Harkin, Michael Fitzsmaurice, Tomas Pringle, Catherine Connolly and Joan Collins.
With a number of Independent groups set up after the February election, the part-time farmer pointed out their main function is for administrative purposes and to organise speaking time in the Dáil chamber.
Asked about the group’s discussions with Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin before the formation of the government, he recalled there was a large element of “going through the motions” as Fine Gael in particular, weren’t interested in forming a coalition with independents.
During these talks, Deputy McNamara highlighted the need to support Shannon Airport; greater transparency in the food chain; the need for a new aviation policy to underpin regional development, securing UNESCO status for Holy Island, funding for greenways in Clare and measures to develop agriculture.
He is pleased that subsequently grants of €2550,000 was allocated for the West Clare Greenway for €140,000 for design work on the redevelopment of the Erinagh Canal.
Asked about his bid to become Ceann Comhairle, he explained he was only interested in taking this position for a short period of time to highlight the need for Dáil reform.
“Frequently some Tds make soliloquies rather than engaging in debate. In the British House of Commons members indicate they want to speak and it is taken in turn.
“Reforms like that would have been useful,” he said.
While there doesn’t seem to be a statutory provision to allow any deputy to remain Ceann Comhairle for just six months, the father-of-one pointed out a member could resign from any position when they felt their had achieved their main aims.
Ultimately, he didn’t put his name forward and supported former Communications Minister, Denis Naughten, who was unsuccessful.
His name was drawn out of a hat from members of his technical group for membership of the new Dáil Covid-19 committee.
A number of deputies from different parties approached him to run for the position of chairman due to his status as an independent, his previous Dáil experience and legal background and he was subsequently successful in his election bid.
Despite claims some Dáil committees are merely “talking shops”, he believes this committee is effective as it provided answers to questions about the virus for constituents.
“I am surprised by the number of people from neighbouring counties who said I watched the Covid-19 committee. It helped to provide information about the virus and the response to it.
The committee will produce three reports with various recommendations – the first one came before the publication of the July Stimulus in addition to interims reports on nursing homes and Covid-19 testing and tracing.
He stressed the care of the elderly is a sector that needs huge reform and noted the lack of statutory funding for home care needs to be prioritised by introducing a new Fair Deal type scheme.
There are also major infection control benefits for supporting the care of patients in their own homes instead of accommodating them in congregated long stay residential care.
“Almost 20% of nursing homes fail HIQA inspections and yet new patients are sent out to these homes, which is paid by the taxpayer and this is something that has to end.
“Some state run nursing homes have a medical officer who is responsible for the care of all residents. Raheen and Ennistymon have medical officers but Regina House doesn’t. Very few private nursing homes have medical officers so patients are treated by various general practitioners for infectious diseases who may not have a duty of care to the whole community.
“This was recommended by HIQA’s equivalent in the United Kingdom and has been implemented in the UK,” he said.