Officials flag concerns about equipping health service to deal with 90,000 more refugees

Officials flag concerns about equipping health service to deal with 90,000 more refugees

Updated: 12 days, 15 hours, 14 minutes, 45 seconds ago

The health service issue has been flagged in a document drawn up for Hildegarde Naughton. Photograph: Alan Betson

The need to prepare the delivery of health services for about 90,000 more refugees and asylum seekers has been raised by officials in a briefing for the new junior health minister.

The issue is flagged in a document drawn up for Hildegarde Naughton, the new Minister of State for Public Health, Well Being and National Drugs Strategy.

About 70,000 people from Ukraine have travelled to Ireland and have been granted temporary protection here after fleeing the Russian invasion of their country last year.

More than 19,300 asylum seekers from other countries are living in direct provision centres and emergency accommodation as their applications are assessed.

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The briefing paper outlines measures taken to provide healthcare for refugees.

It also identifies a number of matters that “require attention”. These issues include the “funding and delivery of the healthcare response for Ukrainian and international protection refugees (90,000 people by end 2022; up to twice that by end 2023)”.

It also says the HSE is “developing a service delivery model which takes account of the numbers of both Ukrainian refugees and applicants for international protection, both current and forecasted, and accommodation challenges”.

Other issues said to require attention are from different areas of Ms Hildegarde’s brief. They include preparation for the forthcoming Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use – which is expected to take place this year – as well as the setting up of a supervised injecting facility for drug users, a plan that is before An Bord Pleanála.

The document gives details of how healthcare is provided for refugees. It says people from Ukraine are granted temporary protection status and are entitled to access healthcare services, in line with other refugee groups and Irish citizens.

The Department of Health and HSE were said to be co-ordinating the provision of healthcare services for more than 67,000 people from Ukraine at the time the document was drawn up.

Some 50,000 medical cards had been issued and 52 per cent of the medical card holders had been assigned to a GP.

The HSE was also said to be providing healthcare services for 18,000 applicants for international protection from different countries, some 13,000 of whom were new arrivals in 2022.

The Department of Health was said to be working to establish a new International Protection Support Service (IPSS) that includes “the enhancement of community healthcare services”.

The document says the HSE is funded to provide health services for asylum seekers, including health screening, primary care services, medical cards, and specialised services for people who have experienced torture or trauma.

The Irish Times reported on Wednesday that the Government is preparing for a scenario whereby the same number of refugees from Ukraine may arrive into the country this year as in 2022.

Asked about projections of arrivals this year the Department of Justice said: “It is difficult to predict with any degree of certainty how many people may flee Ukraine at any given time as the displacement of people ... is influenced by the evolving dynamics of the conflict.”

It also said: “There is a co-ordinated whole-of-Government response to support people arriving in Ireland who have fled the violence in Ukraine.”

On whether the State can provide accommodation to as many as 90,000 more people, a Department of Integration statement said: “Our department has already outlined the challenges in accommodating those arriving in the State in need of accommodation.

“These challenges will be exacerbated if the predicted numbers of arrivals is realised, but we will continue to respond to this crisis to the best of our ability, in collaboration with our cross-Government colleagues.”

The Department of Health said it has established a group to coordinate the provision of healthcare services for Ukrainian and other refugees.

It also said additional funding has been allocated to provide healthcare services for refugees and to implement the Integrated Refugee and Migrant Health Model.

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