Covid-19 committee chief urges Minister to review priorities

Dáil group’s chairman criticises access to fast food, but lack of access to cancer screening

Chairman of the Dáil Covid-19 committee Michael McNamara said ‘we’ve now reached a stage on our roadmap where we can have a McDonald’s, but we can’t have a cancer screening’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Chairman of the Dáil Covid-19 committee Michael McNamara said ‘we’ve now reached a stage on our roadmap where we can have a McDonald’s, but we can’t have a cancer screening’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

A call has been made for the Government to reconsider its priorities as comparisons were made in the Dáil between the public’s access to fast food but lack of access to cancer screening.

Chairman of the special Oireachtas committee on Covid-19 Michael McNamara said “we’ve now reached a stage on our roadmap where we can have a McDonald’s but we can’t have a cancer screening”.

“Is that satisfactory to you as Minister for Health?” he asked Simon Harris during a debate on the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the health service.

Calling on the Minister to look at priorities he said “sometimes they don’t seem to make sense to ordinary people across this land”.

Mr Harris said he wanted to restart screening but to do it in a safe way and the HSE care plan for non-coronarvirus cases would be ready in two weeks.

The Minister also said he had yet to find another country that had restarted its screening programmes whether it was Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or New Zealand.

A number of TDs raised concerns about the lack of services to treat non-Covid cases and highlighted the low levels of usage of beds in the 19 private hospitals taken over by the State.

Mr Harris who remarked to Mr McNamara, “you wouldn’t be in any way flippant in relation to this” said he did not have a responsibility for McDonald’s “but I do have a responsibility for the safety of the health service the safety of staff and for the women and men of Ireland”.

The Minister said he wanted to turn screening back on “but I want to do it in a safe way. It will be led by clinical advice and within two weeks we’ll have the non-Covid care plan from the HSE, led by clinicians which will determine when it is safe and how they intend to recommence work.”

Mr McNamara, an Independent TD for Clare, said “in normal times you wouldn’t have responsibility for McDonald’s but given the extraordinary powers this chamber gave you it seems you have the responsibility for everything in your regulations.

“And I would urge you Minister to look at priorities because sometimes they don’t seem to make sense to ordinary people across this land.”

Mr Harris said the priority on Covid-19 “is to keep as many people alive in this country as possible and through the incredible efforts of the Irish people we saved an awful lot of lives.

“My ongoing priority now is to manage the virus to a point that we don’t see a second wave,that we continue to keep it suppressed while we try to live alongside it.

“That’s going to be a difficult and delicate balance, and my priority then is to begin to turn back on, safely, non-Covid services.”

But he told Mr McNamara that he would see “as chairman of the Covid committee how challenging that is going to be, because we will have to run our health service in a very different way. There’ll be opportunities in that but there will be challenges too.”