Home > Dail Eireann debate. Covid-19 (drug and alcohol services, and homelessness): statements.

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Covid-19 (drug and alcohol services, and homelessness): statements. (18 Feb 2021)

...Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Frank Feighan: I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I welcome this opportunity to update the House on drug and alcohol services and health supports for people who are homeless during the Covid-19 pandemic.


Not everyone faces the same risk from Covid-19. People who use drugs or alcohol in a problematic way are at heightened risk due to underlying health and social factors. These are compounded for people who are homeless, who experience multiple morbidity and are at risk of premature death. There can also be risks associated with the consumption of illicit drugs or large quantities of alcohol. In particular, the ageing cohort of opioid users are vulnerable to Covid-19 because of a high level of pre-existing health problems and lifestyle factors. It is estimated that 19,000 people with opioid dependency and 4,500 single people are homeless, with a significant overlap between these two groups. The Department of Health and the HSE have prioritised these groups in our response to Covid-19.


The incidence of Covid-19 among people living with addiction and in homelessness has remained low during the third wave of the pandemic. Health Protection Surveillance Centre, HPSC, data for the period from late-November to mid-February show that, in addiction services, there have been nine outbreaks of Covid-19 involving 48 cases. Of these cases, three people have been hospitalised and, unfortunately, one person has died, which is most regrettable. In homeless services, there have been a further nine outbreaks involving 41 cases. Of these, two people have been hospitalised. These figures include staff in homeless services. By comparison, there were 3,076 outbreaks of Covid-19 nationally, while in residential institutions there were 186 outbreaks with 1,308 associated cases.


It is clear from the data that the impact of Covid-19 on people in addiction or homelessness has been much less than expected. This low incidence has been achieved by the actions of health and social care services, which prioritised these groups in terms of protection, detection and case management. These services are saving lives, perhaps not in hospitals, but by ensuring that people with underlying health conditions do not end up in intensive care in the first place.


What have we done during Covid-19 to achieve this positive outcome? What are the lessons we can draw for health policy? I wish to highlight three positive lessons.


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