In a Dáil Éireann Debate which took place on Tuesday, December 8, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Frankie Feighan, said that staff are working towards a phased reopening of the GMHS in the New Year.
Mr Feighan was answering a question put to the Minister for Health by Deputy Róisín Shortall asking “when the gay men’s health service will reopen; the reason Ireland’s only dedicated sexual health and well-being service for gay and bisexual men, men who have sex with men and the transgender community has remained closed since March 2020; if the staff are still redeployed to Covid-19 services; and if he will make a statement on the matter.”
In response, Me Feighan said:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented interruptions to normal healthcare activity, with most services affected, including STI clinics.
“STI Clinics are conducting virtual clinics where possible, with attendance in person limited to appointment only. Service restrictions are predominantly due to social distancing requirements; waiting rooms can now only hold a fraction of patients compared to before the pandemic. Priority is being given to those with symptoms or requiring testing and treatment.
“I am advised by the HSE that the closure of the Gay Men’s Health Service was due to the necessary redeployment of personnel to COVID-19 testing and contact tracing duties. Work has been ongoing with other services, stakeholders and community groups in order to provide the best possible service to GMHS service users under the circumstances.
“Agreement has been reached with St James’s Hospital GUIDE (Genito Urinary Infectious Diseases) Clinic on the provision of PrEP services, with GMHS PrEP users being facilitated in GUIDE for follow up appointments.
“Phone lines, the GMHS website and other resources such as man2man.ie and sexual wellbeing.ie are regularly updated to reflect current service delivery and to signpost users to the HSE list of approved PrEP services; wider information regarding STI services is also included.
“The HSE have been engaged in an extensive recruitment process in order to resource COVID-19 testing and contact tracing services. It is intended that this will enable staff from other health services, including GMHS, to return to their respective positions and resume service delivery in due course.
“With due regard for the Covid-19 related resources currently being put in place, my Department wrote to the Chief Executive of the HSE, Mr Paul Reid, to emphasise the need, as circumstances permit, to return redeployed staff to their substantive posts in non-Covid-related services.
“Officials from my Department are in regular contact with the HSE to monitor progress on the reopening of the GMHS and I am advised that staff are working towards a phased reopening of the service early in the New Year.”
The news that the GHMS will be reopening in the New Year follows an open letter by Irish LGBTQ+ community leaders calling for the reopening of the GMHS and a call by Gay Health Network (GHN) in October where they expressed deep concern about the continued closure of the GMHS and its impact on the GBMSM community in Ireland.
GHN has tentatively welcomed the news of a phased reopening and said in a statement:
“GHN welcomes the Minister’s announcement that staff are working towards a phased reopening of the GMHS early in the New Year. That said, it is incumbent upon us to stress the urgency of the situation and the dire need for GMHS to reopen immediately. We look forward to further clarification, and confirmation from the Minister of when the GMHS will reopen its doors.”
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