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Concerns raised in Dáil that number of non-Covid-related deaths 'will surpass' Covid-related deaths

Labour leader Alan Kelly said normal diagnostics and screening services need to get back up and running.

Labour leader Alan Kelly says minutes of hte NPHET meetings have still not been published.
Labour leader Alan Kelly says minutes of hte NPHET meetings have still not been published.
Image: LEAH FARRELL; RollingNews.ie

DELAYING THE RESUMPTION of non-Covid-19 care is a matter of “life and death”, according to Labour leader Alan Kelly.

Speaking in the Dáil today, he said a plan to get normal diagnostics and screening services back up and running “cannot wait any longer”.

The delays in rolling out a plan for normal health service provision is taking too long, said Kelly, stating there are real concerns around the increasing number of non-Covid-related deaths. 

Kelly told the Dáil he believes preventable non-Covid-related deaths “will surpass Covid-related deaths if the trajectory goes on the way it is going in the coming weeks”.  

Figures obtained by RTÉ News this week showed that no mammograms were carried out by BreastCheck in April this year, compared to 13,763 in the same month last year. 

CervicalCheck labs received 937 samples for analysis in April this year, compared to 21,037 in April 2019.

Cancer screening programmes have been paused due to the Covid-19 crisis.

The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Ireland is 1,497.

Opposition parties have warned that the temporary suspension could have long-term consequences, and have called for a comprehensive catch-up programme.

Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin said the government deal with private hospitals has to be reviewed because millions of Euro is being spent on capacity that is not being used.

“The numbers of people who need early diagnostics has not declined yet the number accessing diagnostics has drastically fallen.  

“It has been suggested by some that a procedure of pretesting every diagnostics patient in advance would allow many facilities to operate at close to normal capacity,” he said.

Private hospitals became part of the public health system for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

Some 2,000 beds, nine laboratories and thousands of staff were drafted into the public system.

“The private hospital deal was an emergency response to the need to create a surge capacity. For nearly a month it has been clear that this surge capacity is not likely to be required at present.  

“In recent days it was suggested that 30% of the capacity might be used to treat public patients. Yet this came on the same day that it was revealed that 1,181 general hospital beds are vacant,” he said.

“The situation is a mess and there is clearly a lack of a comprehensive strategy on to how to get other hospital activity back as comprehensively as is responsible,” said Martin.

“We are hearing stories about cancer patients and other patients who could have treatment but could not because of this prolonged paralysis in terms of reaching an agreement with consultants,” said Martin.

The Taoiseach was also asked about his comments yesterday whereby he stated that evidence indicates reopening schools is “among the safest things” that can be done in the next few months.

His comments came as the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said children were not substantially contributing to the spread of Covid-19 in their households or in schools.

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However, later in the day, the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said schools would not be reopening sooner, and stressed that not enough studies had been conducted to conclude for certain that children do not transmit the disease.

Kelly said it was “pretty embarrassing” for the Taoiseach to be “shot down” by the Chief Medical Officer on the issue of schools re-opening.

“It was a critical moment for all of us in here, it wasn’t good for the body politic,” he said.

He said the Taoiseach needs to reflect on yesterday’s events, stating that there needs to be one message from government – not one message from the Taoiseach and one message from the Chief Medical Officer.

“It is just not good,” he said.

“There needs to be one voice,” he added. 

Kelly also raised the issue of transparency again, stating that he has called for the publication of letters and correspondence from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and the department and health minister. 

He noted that despite reassurances that minutes of NPHET meetings will be published, notes from six meetings are still not publicly available.

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