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Bioethics support provided in Covid-19 response – Department

The bioethics unit at the Department of Health and members of the national advisory committee on bioethics (NACB) are providing support to the health services during the current Covid-19 pandemic, this newspaper has been told. However, the support from the NACB has been at an individual rather than official level. No decision has yet been taken on the next “topic of work” for the committee.

The NACB last produced an opinion document in late 2015. The document, ‘Nudging in Public Health – An Ethical Framework’, focused on ethical challenges with the deployment of behavioural science in health policy.

The Department told the Medical Independent that during the current Covid-19 pandemic, behavioural science “can provide important insights and evidence to support communications and other interventions required to drive and sustain behavioural change, as well as respond to emerging concerns”.

The spokesperson outlined how NACB members had been involved in the ethical response to the Covid-19 virus, while acting in a non-NACB capacity.

“For instance, the Chairperson of the NACB, Prof Andrew Green, is a member of the Covid-19 national research ethics committee, while other NACB members, Dr Joan McCarthy and Prof David Smith, are also members of the pandemic ethics advisory group (PEAG), chaired by Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan.”

The Department’s bioethics unit is also providing support during this time.

“Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan, Chief Bioethics Officer at the Department of Health, is a member of the national public health emergency team (NPHET). In addition, she chairs the PEAG, and is a member of the research ethics subgroup of the expert advisory group to NPHET.” The PEAG “meets weekly and works collaboratively to provide ethical guidance to NPHET

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