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Carers under government bus

We can’t trust our health minister to prioritise vaccination for family carers

By David Nolan

As a family carer, I have implored the government to classify informal carers on the vaccine rollout list.  Informal carers need vaccination for continuity of care.

Why should unpaid family carers providing extraordinary levels of care in the home be treated any differently to paid care workers who are prioritised for the vaccine?

The vaccine guidelines are drawn up with a view to preventing deaths and hospitalisations. In many cases, the hospital Emergency Department is the only place a cared for person can be brought to if their family carer is unable to continue caring because of Covid-19. And they will arrive at the hospital as a clear Covid-19-infection risk.

I am exasperated but I am not alone. There have been over eighty parliamentary questions from every party and independents. The questions have neen batted away with a disregard and a ‘copy/paste’ dismissal. 

The first sign of light came from TD and junior minister Malcolm Noonan in January. He stated that the HSE chief operations office had responded stating we were “likely to be considered as part of the key workers group 6”. David Cullinane TD received the same answer. Family carers have been waiting eagerly since then. We expected something in last month’s revised vaccine schedule. But only silence. 

Three weeks ago at leaders questions, Taoiseach and Tánaiste both stated that NIAC had been requested to review the position of family carers and that a report was imminent that week. NIAC is an advisory committee but the responsibility of decision-making lies with cabinet alone The press handler for Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly reiterated the same. The following week hope arrived in the form of an email from Fianna Fáil TD Jennifer Murnane O’Connor immediately after the parliamentary party meeting. It said;

“I just left a meeting with Minister Donnelly. I want to let you know that family carers (pending NIAC recommendation) will be considered for Cohort 6 of the vaccination queue with carers of children first. I hope this eases your worries somewhat”. 

This was verified by a tweet from Virgin political correspondent Gavan Reilly. 

Senator Malcolm Byrne also tweeded; “expecting an announcement this week but I am as frustrated as you are with delays. Family carers should be designated as key workers”.  A lot of clear indications which were independently verified. Are we home and hosed? No.

Last week, responding to a question from TD David Cullinane, Minister Donnelly stated in the Dáíl that he had heard Murnane O’Connor’s email reported and it did not match his recollection. Murnane O’Connor has ostensibly refuted that claim made by Donnelly on KCLR and to The Sun newspaper. She stands by her interpretation. It seems Donnelly threw her under a bus.

The crux of the matter is that Donnelly was involved in a specific discussion where he told Murnane O’Connor and a party meeting that family carers were to be considered for elevation to category 6, or that he had discussed this within the HSE at an operational level.  Then he misled the Dáíl by denying it. 

The level of detail, the fact a political correspondent live-tweeted the comments from the party meeting and the fact that a junior minster had a similar line from the HSE in January all nsubverted his deial. Either Donnelly lied to the Dáíl, chucking Murnane O’Connor under a bus, or he does not understand what is happening in his party and in the HSE. I do not know which is worse.

Furthermore, if the Taoiseach and Tánaiste were aware of this, kept the public health advice from the public and told the Dáíl that no advice had issued, that would be a minister, Tánaiste and Taoiseach misleading the Dáíl. That is not what happened.

Alternatively, ournalist Gavan Reilly, senator Malcolm Byrne, minister Malcolm Noonan and TD Jennifer Murnane O’Connor are lying – in unison. Impossible, given that Malcolm Noonan was emailed by the HSE, and given that Murnane O’Connor would not have been alone in discussing family carers.

So…If no advice has issued, one year into the pandemic, why not?

Family carers as defined in the National Carers strategy 2012 are ‘key care partners’ and all the public and civil service were instructed to recognise that fact. We keep getting told it is a matter of supply and to hold firm as they have only got to cohort 4, but NIAC advice 5.a of the covid vaccine strategy states they see entertainment in cohort 13.

Government describes informal carers as “the backbone of care provision in Ireland” yet this government is content with informal carers not featuring in public health advice.

This government has broken the social contract with the backbone of care provision.