Dáil Éireann - Volume 473 - 28 January, 1997

Written Answers. - Hospital Services.

118. Mr. S. Brennan asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to the need for emergency care for mentally and physically disabled residents in institutions which would be subject to industrial action by nurses in the event of their strike going ahead; the contingency arrangements, if any, he is making to ensure continuity of care for the people concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2114/97]

120. Mr. Dempsey asked the Minister for Health the proposals, if any, in place to provide proper care and attention for residents in residential care units in the event of the nurses strike going ahead. [2224/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan, Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 118 and 120 together.

As the Deputy will be aware, I met the rep-resentatives of the alliance of nursing unions on 21 January last. Both sides availed of the opportunity to take stock of the current situation. The meeting also involved discussion of the contingency planning arrangements being made by hospitals and other health service providers. In the meantime work is continuing in my Department in relation to service arrangements following these discussions at national level.

Planning within the Department has included direct contact with all of the affected agencies; identification of high risk areas within the service; preparation of resources centrally and regionally to deal with communications with patients, impending patients and their families and the dissemination of information through local and national media; the establishment of regional centres to provide an ongoing flow of information on a daily basis direct to the Department in relation to service disruption. All health service employers affected by the threatened action are preparing contingency plans for their local sites following discussions between management and strike committees of the alliance.

In relation to the mental handicap service particularly, many specialist agencies have [1737] already provided details outlining the impact of such a disruption in relation to these clients and their families. They have been asked to provide further details outlining preparations for service disruption to my Department and to make what arrangements will be necessary to ensure the continuing care of this vulnerable group.

In the course of my discussions on 21 January I specifically asked the alliance to consider an exemption from strike action in sensitive areas, such as services to persons with a mental handicap. The nursing alliance has indicated that it is currently drafting a formal response which it will provide to my Department later this week. It is my continued hope that it will agree to give special consideration to this area of the service.