Local Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley has called for ICU capacity in Portlaoise and Tullamore Hospitals to be increased permanently.
The Laois TD made the call to Minister Stephen Donnelly while speaking in the Dáil during a debate on measures needed to deal with the Covid crisis.
He said: “On healthcare facilities and hospitals, I am aware we came into this crisis with under capacity, with less than half the ICU beds needed.
“That is accepted now. However, we have had more than 18 months to respond to this.
“I know the capacity cannot be magically increased as specially trained staff are needed, and it is not as simple as just putting a bed into a room, but we must try to improve ICU capacity.
“We have hundreds of people on trolleys. We have that every winter. We knew this was coming and the capacity issues are nothing new.
“I highlight to the Minister that in Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise there are only two permanent ICU beds. There are four in Midland Regional Hospital Tullamore.
“If you do the maths, with the population ratio of the region, it is way under what is required. I ask the Minister to look at increasing the capacity in Portlaoise and Tullamore hospitals as we move ahead.
“Sinn Féin put forward a proposal in our budget for the allocation of funding for 600 extra acute beds, 34 ICU beds and 194 specialist beds.
“The Government proposed 19 ICU beds and while every bed is welcome, we believe we need to go further than that. Our proposal includes provision for 2,500 extra staff.
“We need to see that level of ambition coming from the Government. There has been a lack of urgency and some foot-dragging by the Government on this.
“We are living with a virus for almost two years now, yet we are still trying to play catch-up. We must be more proactive. We need to get ahead and we need to up our game.”
Deputy Stanley also highlighted issues with PCR tests, antigen testing and access to booster vaccines.
He said: “The public want solutions for quicker and decisive action to address the Covid-19 surge.
“We need to see a much quicker roll-out of the booster vaccine programme. This has been referred to by Government Deputies as well.
“It needs to be ramped up with additional centres, as well as greater involvement from GPs and pharmacies. We need to get up to the pace we were at in June and July. I think the Minister mentioned 200,000 per week earlier.
“We should push that up to 300,000 and beyond if possible. We need to gear that up because it is going to be trickier to control this in winter.
“We also need to deal with the issue of antigen testing. Workers and families need access to affordable antigen testing on a regular basis.
“Sinn Féin were asking for antigen testing to be looked at as far back as 18 months ago. Right now outlets are charging up to €15 for a single test.
“If we want to slow down the spread of Covid, we need people who are asymptomatic to be regularly testing themselves and to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus.
“We need greater access to PCR tests for those who have symptoms. It is really important people have access to a very accurate PCR test.
“People are having difficulty accessing the PCR test centres. We need more walk-in centres opened so the public can have access to them in order to slow down the spread of the virus.’’