The Government must ensure that its medium-term plan on dealing with Covid-19 to be announced next week is “elderly proofed”.
Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said the roadmap which will cover the State response to the pandemic for the next six to nine months must contain a specific plan to ensure "all our elderly can get out and about, have stimulation, go to social events and go to sporting events in a controlled and safe way".
During a Dáil debate debate on mental health for older people, the Tipperary TD said he had been asked by a man in his 80s when he could go back to playing cards, because this was his social activity which he and friends played three or four times a week.
Mr Kelly said “we need a plan for the elderly” and “all the technology in the world is not going to work” for many older people.
An 86-year-old man who lived near him said he “won’t tolerate another cocooning lockdown situation. He will just take his chances.”
Mr Kelly said the man could not go the pub or go to see his grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
“He could not play cards he normally plays three or four times and his only outlet was to walk around the roads and the bit of land he has and hope a neighbour will drive by so he can have a chat. He goes to Mass once a week.”
Introducing the debate Minister of State for Mental Health Mary Butler acknowledged the significant impact of Covid-19, especially on older people.
She insisted the protection of the vulnerable continued to be a priority for the Government, particularly during the pandemic. “We recognise that those with mental health issues and older people are often among the most vulnerable in society.”
The new Minister said improving access and reducing waiting lists for access to services, where possible, were key objectives for the Government. Ms Butler added that some 90 per cent of supports were continued during lockdown.
“In addition, a blended approach to service delivery was quickly adopted by many organisations, and that will help inform greater clarity around the roles and responsibilities throughout the sector in the future.”
She also said the new forensic mental health facility at Portrane in north Dublin to replace the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum was expected to open early next year.
Sinn Féin mental health spokesman Mark Ward said the funding of mental health services "is not a cost, it is an investment".
He told the Minister “it’s an investment that you can’t afford not to make” as he pointed out that Thursday is World Suicide Prevention Day and said that 421 people died by suicide last year.
He said community-based mental health services were already bursting at the seams pre-Covid and there was unprecedented demand.
He said despite modest Government investment “we have seen very little improvement in waiting lists”.
Sinn Féin TD Patricia Ryan said more than 21,000 applications were made for the Age Action Red Cross hardship fund during the pandemic for which €103,000 had been fundraised but only 453 applications could be granted.
She said the charities petitioned the Department of Health for help in meeting the demand, but said it was a “disgrace” that their call was ignored.
“Instead many vulnerable elderly people were left with no additional financial support during this difficult time.”