Home > Dail Eireann debate. Covid-19 (Health): statements.

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Covid-19 (Health): statements. (13 Jan 2021)

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

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Frankie Feighan): I welcome this opportunity to update the House on the vital public health policy areas falling within my remit. While physical and mental well-being have always been important, the Covid-19 pandemic has put public health and well-being centre stage in both Government policymaking and in citizens’ lives.

Empowering people and communities to keep well and shifting focus further towards prevention are key elements of Sláintecare, delivered through Healthy Ireland, our national action plan to help people live healthier and longer lives. Healthy Ireland is being implemented through a suite of action plans and policies, which aim to reduce obesity, increase activity levels, improve health and awareness and help more people to reduce excessive alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and to quit smoking. Since 2018, a core component of Healthy Ireland has been our national communications and citizen engagement campaign, which raises public awareness of supports under three key themes, namely, healthy eating, physical activity and mental well-being. This campaign has been repurposed since the arrival of the pandemic.

In the spring, we supported health and well-being through the In This Together campaign. Last November, recognising that this winter may be one of the most challenging faced in living memory, the campaign was adapted to focus on building resilience, with the theme of keeping well. More details and specific supports are available on gov.ie/healthyireland. Some €7 million in funding has been provided to support a range of initiatives and services under the five main themes. These are: keeping active; staying connected; switching off and being creative; eating well; and minding your mood.

Covid-19 poses a major threat for people with drug and alcohol addiction. In response, drug and alcohol services have adapted new ways of working to continue to support people affected by substance misuse during the pandemic. HSE addiction services have put in place procedures to ensure the delivery of opioid substitution treatment for almost 11,000 service users, including addressing the risk of overdose during Covid-19 by providing increased availability of naloxone.

I could go on and I have a lot more to say but I just want to send my condolences to the families and friends of all those who have passed away and to thank all those who are working to try to reduce this awful problem during this pandemic.

Debate continues…

Deputy Thomas Gould: During the first lockdown in April, The Irish Times reported that take-home alcohol sales increased by 40%, with €158 million being spent on alcohol to be consumed in the home. It is vitally important that we have a conversation about alcohol misuse in the light of the serious mental health concerns raised by my party colleague, Deputy Ward, and me, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Social isolation, depression and anxiety are all triggers for harmful alcohol consumption, yet the Government does not seem to be too pushed to address the harm alcohol is causing to individuals, families and communities.

This week saw the implementation of further measures under the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018. People were quick to pat themselves on the back about this and everybody said, "Well done, lads". It took two years for that legislation to be only partially implemented. Local and regional drugs and alcohol task forces get no specific funding to support the establishment of alcohol misuse services. In fact, in the 2021 budget, there was no funding whatsoever in respect of harmful alcohol misuse. There was also no funding for alcohol-related brain injuries. When treated properly, there can be a 70% recovery rate from such injuries and it is estimated that 2.4% of the country's population is affected. We have no complete figures because the only treatment programme in the State does not get proper funding and cannot be expanded. There is no funding for the Irish Community Action on Alcohol Network, which has localised, evidence-based plans that work. In my area in Cork city, Cork Community Action on Alcohol Northside can attest to the success of those plans. Despite repeated calls to the Minister for Justice, dial-a-drink services continue to deliver alcohol 24 hours a day, seven days a week to vulnerable people. Nothing is being done about that. Alcohol can be harmful and is a real issue. We have all seen it destroy the lives of members of our community, friends or family members. We need action to address the problem now.

As the Sinn Féin spokesperson on addiction recovery and well-being, I am proud to advocate for all of those who are in addiction and in recovery. The Department of Health needs to abolish its drugs policy unit and establish an addiction and recovery unit. Until that is done, gambling addiction will continue to fall under the remit of the Minister for Justice and people in gambling addiction will be treated the same as those with mental health problems. There are no supports for people with gambling addictions and the Extern Problem Gambling Project, which provides counselling for those with such an addiction, receives no Government funding. I contacted five Departments before Christmas, namely, the Departments of Justice, Health, Children and Youth Affairs, Rural and Community Development, and Education, and each came back with the response that no funding was available. A representative of the Extern Problem Gambling Project told me today that if the Government does not step in now, it will close in six weeks' time due to a lack of funding. We need to act now to support people who are in gambling addiction.

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