Need to source more Irish PPE: Sinn Féin
“The HSE is forecasting that it will spend more than €1 billion this year on PPE. From Sinn Féin’s point of view it is essential that we retain as much of that money as possible in the Irish economy. This means purchasing as much PPE as possible from businesses in Ireland and developing domestic capacity over time. This will help to relieve pressure on the Exchequer, it will stimulate job creation and allow us to recirculate a significant amount of money within the Irish economy.
Prior to Covid-19, the HSE typically spent €20 million per annum on PPE with little or no indigenous production. It, therefore, makes perfect sense for us to begin to develop our own capacity of PPE supply chains not just for Covid-19 but for post-Covid-19 when the health sector will require a larger supply.
From the information released by the HSE we can see that only a fraction of the HSE spend is being retained in Ireland. One particular Chinese company, China Resources Pharmaceutical Group, has been paid more than €225 million this year for PPE. We accept that PPE had to be purchased quickly but we should not be facing into a crisis in that way. Surely, we can find a more practical way of providing PPE which represents better value for money. There are many small firms, including in my own constituency of Laois-Offaly, that are involved in fabrics and upholstery etc. that could produce masks, gowns and visors, etc.. I am proposing to the Minister that he put in place a scheme through the local enterprise offices to identify companies and to work with local businesses to establish local supply chains and to begin developing the capacity to produce PPE in this country.
It is important for the taxpayer that this Government secures a better deal with the private hospitals this winter than we have had to date. Again, this was the right thing to do to increase capacity at the time but we did not get a good deal. We know from the figures released by the HSE that the State paid €115 million per month to private hospitals and a grand total of €338 million in three months. We need to ask why we paid €44,000 per bed when the United Kingdom secured private hospital beds at a cost of €10,000 each.
Why are we paying €592,000 per ventilator when the United Kingdom pays €68,000? What are we doing this time around to ensure the new deal represents value for taxpayers’ money?
What work has the Department of Health done to increase public hospital intensive care unit capacity during the Covid-19 pandemic? This is not just about temporary capacity but rather long-term capacity. Prior to the pandemic Ireland had only six intensive care unit beds per 100,000 people, which is only half the European Union average and much lower than what is available in Germany. In Tullamore hospital, for example, there are just four intensive care unit beds and Portlaoise hospital, critically, has only two such beds. That is for a population catchment area of more than 160,000 people. It leaves us in a tricky position if there is a surge in Covid-19 numbers.
These are matters in our health services that must be addressed regardless of whether the pandemic continues. We could have a win in the health area and for the economy by addressing them.”