Home > Select Committee on Health debate. Vote 38 - Health (further revised).

[Oireachtas] Select Committee on Health debate. Vote 38 - Health (further revised). (10 Apr 2019)

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Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: To turn to the Estimates, there are two areas in particular on which I want to focus, namely, inclusion health and the palliative care section in terms of the budgets. In terms of inclusion health, I refer to the issue of drug misuse and the number of referrals for addiction services. It is welcome that we are meeting our targets. The target last year in terms of the percentage of substance misusers under the age of 18 for whom treatment has commenced within one week following an assessment was at 99%, which is effectively everyone. My concern is about the waiting times to be assessed. There are two different issues in that regard. Once somebody gets assessed, he or she is getting the treatment within a very short time. We are meeting all of our targets in that regard. I do not see any information, and the Minister might be able to provide it by way of a note to the committee later if he does not have it now, on the number of people seeking assessments and the period of time they are waiting.


I have a particular concern based on my personal knowledge of individuals, particularly around opiate addictions, for instance, heroin. We are meeting the targets from the time someone is assessed to when treatment starts, which I understand is four days. That is the target for next year. The target was five days last year and we did it in four, so we have a new target for this year. My concern is the waiting times to be assessed, especially with regard to heroin use. I am sure the Minister is well aware that if somebody is addicted to an opiate such as heroin and for whatever reason that person has an awakening on a particular day that he or she wants to kick the habit, that person cannot wait around three or four weeks for an assessment because within three or four days the chances are that person is no longer in that frame of mind and the opportunity is lost. Will the Minister give us some indication of what we are doing to try to improve the waiting times to be assessed rather than the waiting times from assessment into treatment, which are excellent? 

Deputy Simon Harris: I thank Deputy O'Brien for this question. I know he is a strong advocate on this issue. He is right to say that some progress has been made in terms of the waiting time from referral to assessment, but he is asking what is happening in regard to the assessment to treatment aspect.  

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: The waiting times from assessment into treatment are on target.

Deputy Simon Harris: Four days, yes.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: We are meeting them. My concern is the waiting times from referral to assessment. We are decreasing the waiting times, but much more work can be done in that area.  

Deputy Simon Harris: In consultation with officials here, we think that the target is still four days for this week for the actual referral to assessment. We believe that the four days refers to not just referral but referral and assessment. I will clarify the matter for the Deputy in a note.  

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: The needle exchange programme is a very important public health initiative and is coupled with the methadone programme. I have received feedback and some pharmacies have decided not to continue with the programmes. How does the methadone programme work in partnership with pharmacies? Is it done on a contract basis? If so, once the contract is up is it renewed on a yearly basis? How is the programme implemented?  

Deputy Simon Harris: My understanding is that the contract continues unless somebody resigns from the programme. It is a contract that continues to roll unless somebody opts out of the programme. I will get a note for the Deputy. I have not been made aware of particular problems emerging, as the Deputy has but he is probably better informed than me on this matter. I am happy to discuss them with the Deputy and I get him a note.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: One or two chemists will cease to trade and they have not been replaced in terms of alternatives.  

Deputy Simon Harris: I understand and ask the Deputy to provide me with the geographical area.  

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Yes.

Deputy Simon Harris: I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: How will next year's funding for the National Treatment Purchase Fund have an impact on waiting lists?...

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