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Sinn Féin and Labour accuse Government of failing to prepare health system for Covid-19 surge

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has defended the efforts of the Government to bolster intensive care beds, promising 340 by the end of 2022.

Image: PA Images

SINN FÉIN LEADER Mary Lou McDonald accused the Government of being “a day late and a dollar short” on hospital capacity, amid growing pressure on the Irish health system.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has defended the efforts of the Governments to bolster the country’s intensive care beds, promising at least 340 by the end of next year.

Concerns have grown in recent days about the impact a rising number of Covid-19 patients in hospital is having on the Irish health service, as hospitals switch to surge capacity and cancel some scheduled surgeries.

The Sinn Féin Leader told the Dáil today: “The failure of the Government to prepare for the Covid surge has created enormous pressure.”

She said that the lack of intensive care capacity has been a failure of successive Irish governments.

“This lack of foresight has continued throughout this pandemic,” McDonald said.

Even in the recent Budget, you tinkered around the edges on ICU capacity.

McDonald cited a report in the Sunday Independent newspaper that an organ transplant patient at the Mater Hospital in Dublin had had their operation cancelled due to a shortage of intensive care beds.

“There should have been an ICU bed for this patient. There would have been an ICU bed if the Government had planned properly,” she told Micheál Martin.

She called it “very traumatic for all concerned, particularly for the patient and their family”.

The Taoiseach said: “I believe that that operation should have gone ahead.”

He said it was a “cause of great regret” the transplant did not go ahead and that an internal investigation is under way.

Martin also defended the strategy of his Government.

“The key issue is not resources now because the Government has provided resources for intensive care beds and for hospital beds and for additional staff.”

“It’s the speed at which we can recruit and provide the entire capacity that an ICU bed requires.”

He said that there will be around 300 intensive care beds at the end of the year.

“We haven’t had prolonged restrictions. We have re-opened the economy and we have re-opened society.”

“This is a balance that we have to strike. Thousands of people have come back to work and that is good for those people.”

Testing capacity

McDonald also told the Dáil: “There are serious questions now arising right across the state in relation to testing capacity. I know that people couldn’t book a PCR test yesterday in Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny and Waterford. And we’re getting similar reports from across the country.

“Meanwhile, the Government is dithering still on antigen testing.”

People-Before-Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said people “can’t get a PCR test for love nor money in Dublin”.

Labour TD Duncan Smith accused the Government of overseeing a health system that was breaking down. He also pointed to the long and ongoing waits for PCR testing.

If you logged on right now, lunchtime in this country, you will not be able to get a test or you will have to stay up late until 12 o’clock at night refreshing screens to try and get a test.

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“It is just not good enough. People are really really upset out there and they’re expecting further restrictions coming down the line.”

“You’re going to have to make long-term plans and stop operating as if this wave is going to be our last,” he told Martin.

“I think we need to be fair and balanced and have a sense of perspective. Having a capacity of 207,000 is not scrambling around,” Martin responded.

“I think there’s a bit of a game thing going on, I would regret,” he said, adding that Ireland compares “very well” with other countries when it comes to PCR testing capacity.


In a response to PA, the HSE said: “We have seen a sustained, extremely high demand for Covid-19 testing at our community testing centres in the last number of weeks in particular.

“This reflects the high prevalence of the disease and other illnesses at this time.

“The community testing service was established initially to support the delivery of 15,000 tests per day; the service has a number of additional measures which we have implemented to increase that daily testing figure for peak periods to 20,000 tests per day.

“Over the last number of weeks we have consistently carried out more than 20,000 tests per day, and yesterday, Monday November 22, was our busiest day to date in community testing with over 26,000 appointments offered in test centres.

In recent days it has been particularly busy in test centres across the country; however, we monitor test appointment slots continually throughout the day and slots often do become available later in the day or the following day.

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