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Level of secondary deaths to be considered by Cabinet every three weeks

Harris said plans are afoot to ramp up use of Ireland’s private hospitals.

Health Minister Simon Harris said there is a major concern about people not seeking medical help throughout the crisis.
Health Minister Simon Harris said there is a major concern about people not seeking medical help throughout the crisis.
Image: RollingNews.ie

THE LEVEL OF secondary deaths occurring in the country during the Covid-19 crisis will be considered by the Cabinet every three weeks, Health Minister Simon Harris has said.

Concerns about the fall off in suspected cancer cases referrals and the cancellations of appointments and operations have been raised in recent days. 

Health Minister Simon Harris said it is an “absolutely major” concern.

In an interview with this website, he said he met with medical leaders last weekend about the issue stating there is now a need to look at how non-Covid 19 care can work alongside Covid-19 care.

When asked about why capacity of the 18 private hospitals is not being used, the minister said: 

“I think it’s a misconception. The last figures I saw, though I expect it is even higher now, is that 33% of bed capacity in those hospitals is being used. But remember, we have to have spare capacity. I mean, no politician, no doctor, nobody can tell me that we’re not going to need all those beds in a few weeks time.

“Like anybody who is that confident is being foolish, or presumptuous, but what I am saying to you is now because of where the virus is at, thanks to the work of the Irish people, we now can use some of that capacity, not all of it, because we do need to keep a certain amount free,” he said,

Health authorities will now attempt to ascertain what Covid-19 capacity will be needed for the coming months, added the minister.

“How many ICU beds do we need to keep, how many isolation beds do we need to keep, how many general hospital beds do we keep,” said Harris. 

Last week, Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly asked the minister in the Dáil for updated data on whether there has been an increase in mortality rates for non-Covid-19 cases. 

“She’s entirely right to look for that,” said the minister, adding:

“I think it would probably be slightly too early to have good data on that. One of the criteria that we’ve agreed now in the roadmap, in the report that I’ll bring to Cabinet every three weeks, one of the things we’ll be looking at is secondary mortality.

“So yes, NPHET [National Public Health Emergency Team] will be advising government on that as well. I fully agree with Louise O’Reilly on this. There is a risk here for every country in the world. You can deal with Covid-19 reasonably well, but actually people will still get cancer, heart attacks, strokes and trauma, so what we’re doing in the coming days is finalising how we can make those private hospitals busier for non Covid-19 care, and how we can resume some of the normal health services on the 18 May.”

He said talks between the HSE and the Department of Health will also take place on the resumption of screening services, which were suspended as a result of the outbreak.

When asked when screening services might be back up and running, he said:

I can’t say more than soon at the moment because we’ve asked the department and NPHET to advise us on that but as quickly as possible. There are choices that you have to make when you’re reopening your country. What goes first. And I’m really pleased that in our government plan, getting health services back up and running, including screening, that we’ve identified that we want to happen early in the plan.

With warnings of an ‘apocalyptic’ surge in hospital waiting lists as the Covid-19 pandemic becomes more controlled, Labour Party Leader Alan Kelly has called for a massive public health awareness campaign to encourage people to engage with the HSE and their GPs on health concerns.

He said the “near-empty private hospital capacity” needs to be put to use to halt any surge into hospitals, and prevent secondary deaths.

Kelly has also raised concerns about the lack of transparency when it comes to decision-making and NPHET. He has called for notes and minutes of their meetings to be published, and also for documentation between the department and the HSE to be published. 

Harris told this publication that he wants to put “conspiracy theories to bed”, adding: 

I’ve been in this department when there hasn’t been as much peace and harmony between the department, the minister and the HSE. I’ve lived through that. What I can tell you now is I mean people are working extraordinarily hard but also extraordinarily collaboratively. That doesn’t mean there’s no tension from time to time, it’d be weird if there wasn’t. I mean it’s absolutely right and proper that the HSE say, ‘yeah we heard you want us to do this, how do we do that’. 

Harris said there will be another pandemic someday and Ireland needs to be prepared and have a strategy in place. Important discussions will have to take place surrounding public health, prevention, and vaccines. 

When asked if it is his view that a coronavirus vaccine would have a high uptake, the minister said: 

“I think so.”

He could not say whether a coronavirus vaccine would be mandatory, stating:

“I can’t say for this one because I come up with a vaccine doesn’t even exist and I don’t know what a recommendation would be my own view in relation to vaccines is that they they obviously do save lives.”

Harris said there will be another pandemic at some point in time and Ireland needs to be ready for it, and have the toolkit and health infrastructure to handle it. 

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