Home > Dail Eireann debate. Estimates for public services 2020.

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Estimates for public services 2020. (30 Jun 2020)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...

Deputy James Browne - I wish Deputy Stephen Donnelly the best of luck in his new ministerial role. He is a highly capable Deputy. I have been glad to serve beside him for the past number of years. I look forward to significant reform and delivery that I have no doubt he will deliver under his stewardship. 

A health-led approach to drugs misuse will be key in drugs policy. Substance abuse and addiction affects people from all walks of life. By treating the use of substances as a public health issue, rather than solely as a criminal issue, we can better help individuals, their families and the communities in which we all live. I am glad to see that the refresh of A Vision for Change will correct a most egregious anomaly whereby those who had addiction issues were treated separately from those who had mental health issues. I am glad to see this finally being addressed. The national drug strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery 2017-2025, provides a roadmap to achieving these aims by promoting a more compassionate approach to people who use drugs, with addiction treated first as a health issue. We will also see the committee for Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery linked to the Sharing the Vision implementation committee. It is critical that there are cross voices on those two committees, to reassure and reconnect the connections between mental health and drugs issues. There is huge hope here but the key issue will be in the implementation of our mental health policy and our drugs policies……. 

Deputy Paul Donnelly - I also congratulate Deputy Stephen Donnelly on his new role as Minister for Health. I wish him well and commit to working with him in a positive and outcome-focused way that ensures that we deliver for and with our communities. As Deputy O'Reilly said we will also do our best to hold the Minister to account, as is our role. 

Covid-19 has shown once again the true spirit of community that when needed, they are ready to help in whatever way they can. We must ensure that we harness, nurture and cherish the skills and expertise in the community. I have been involved in working and supporting communities in Blanchardstown for nearly 25 years. I have seen the highs and lows of community-led action to tackle problematic drug use. I was a founding member of the local drugs task force and several drug and youth and community projects. To be honest, we have gone back about 25 years when it comes to our voice being heard. Unfortunately our voice is being ignored by HSE management in particular. I have read in detail the programme for Government and the promises made on drug and alcohol services. In the future I would like to come back to the Minister on some of those concerns but for now I have a couple of questions.

I recently asked the previous Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, about supports for community drug projects and for funding for PPE and I note that the Minister mentioned earlier that there was a potential cost of over €1 billion for PPE for the HSE. Unfortunately, the answer I got back was that community drug projects across the State are not getting any funding whatsoever for PPE or for any adjustments that they need to make to their facilities. This shows a complete lack of understanding of funding of community drug projects. 

As someone who is currently a board member of the Dublin 15 Community Drugs Team, every cent is spent and accounted for every year. There is no capacity for PPE and no capacity for us to be able to change the way our building operates to enable us to operate the service in the best way we possibly can. There is no leeway in funding and there is no magic tree there we can go to. Our funding comes primarily from the HSE and unfortunately that has been rejected. 

We provide a programme called the Arising Stabilisation Programme and I invite the Minister out to see it in the future when we do get back up and running. It is a huge support for older, more vulnerable participants in our project and we have real concerns about how we are going to get that back up and running again. The feedback we have gotten over the last number of weeks and months when the project has been closed and we have been dealing with people through Zoom and one-to-one phone calls etc. is that these are deeply vulnerable people who need real one-to-one support. How we are going to do that given the costs that are going to be incurred by us? Renting other rooms is another additional cost that we cannot meet and that community drugs teams and other community services just do not have funding for into the future. Looking at funding it is really important, now especially. Will the Minister look at funding for community drug teams and how that is supported from now until the end of the year? Most likely it would need to be into the new year because as I said we do not have the funding to be able to do the work that is needed. 

Drugs affect all communities and none is immune to their devastating effects. However, some are more affected than others and we work in very disadvantaged areas. Will the Minister give a commitment that disadvantaged communities be given a real voice at the table, from the top, on the national strategy and then on the ground with the local drug task forces? CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign has looked at the programme for Government and at many other programmes for Government and national drugs strategies. They have said: "We have consistently argued for the strengthening of the role of the DATFs and for resourcing of the DATF projects and we need to see this Programme finally delivering on the resources required." That is really critical as we move forward because that community has been really affected during the Covid crisis…… 

Deputy Paul McAuliffe - Like previous speakers, I congratulate the Minister on his appointment as Minister for Health. I say that, not out of some sense of party loyalty, but because I have seen in a very real way the ability and skill he has applied to the health portfolio as an Opposition spokesperson. I saw it here in the Chamber but more important, I saw it when the Minister came to visit my constituency with a number of other spokespeople from the Fianna Fáil Front Bench. The Minister listened with real integrity to people from that community speak about how they were in the grip of the drugs industry. I very much welcome the commitment in the programme for Government to deal with addiction as a matter of health rather than a criminal matter. I hope to play a part in leading the debate on how we treat addiction differently. I very much look forward to an opportunity to have the Minister and perhaps other Ministers who attended that meeting return to the constituency to speak again to the people there. Unfortunately, yet again over the weekend there was a shooting in my community. The family resource centre which operates in the area had to reduce the services it can provide due to the level of intimidation. We cannot leave any community in the grip of the drugs industry. I hope to work with both the Minister for Health and the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, on that…… 

Deputy Stephen Donnelly - I am not sure that there were so many specific questions. In response to what Deputy Flaherty said about orthodontics, it is a major issue that any child would have to wait eight years for orthodontic services. It is a failure on all our parts. Consultant surgeons and dentists tell us it is far cheaper to intervene early because in dentistry in particular early detection and treatment is critical. My view is that we are failing the unfortunate young men like the one Deputy Flaherty mentioned, as well as young women. Those waiting lists are not acceptable. One of the big opportunities we have is the public health school intervention teams, which work very well where they operate. One of the commitments in the programme for Government is to look at activating a DEIS-style health intervention team along the model that was previously rolled out very successfully. That is something we need to spend serious time on. 

I thank all my colleagues for their good wishes. I really do appreciate them. As I stated earlier, no one Deputy in this House is going to be able to solve healthcare. It requires us all, and I really look forward to working with everybody on it. Different Members of the House specialise in different areas. For example, Deputy Butler puts significant emphasis on older people. I was honoured to be in Deputy McAuliffe's constituency. I recognise the amazing work he does on addiction. I agree with him that it is genuinely transformative that we will move from it being a justice and policing issue to a health issue. Obviously, as regards the situation he raised in his constituency, the community Garda force, the drugs task force and the Garda drugs teams need the resources on the sharp end, but it is very relevant that for people in addiction we will begin to move to treating this as a healthcare issue, as we should. 

I assure Deputy Devlin that we will prioritise disability. It has taken a very sizeable portion of the programme for Government. It will be front and centre. It is now under the remit of a member of Cabinet and I hope in the very near future we will be work out exactly how it will work. We need a whole-of-Government approach to disability. It is a health issue, a transport issue, a justice issue, and an equality issue. I fully agree with what Deputy Devlin said. My commitment to him is from the health portfolio. We will not be found wanting.


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