Calls to restart nursing home visits as vaccines cut infections

Groups representing care homes and residents call for plan to allow visiting once more

‘For people in nursing homes, time might not necessarily be with them and their families are desperate to get into them.’ File photograph: Getty

‘For people in nursing homes, time might not necessarily be with them and their families are desperate to get into them.’ File photograph: Getty

 

The Government has been asked to set out a plan for the phased return of nursing home visits as new figures show Covid-19 infections among residents declining following vaccinations.

Nursing Homes Ireland and Sage Advocacy, a group representing older people, have asked for a plan to restart visits. The request comes as vaccines have brought greater protection to residents against the virus since the medication began to be administered last month.

The Health Service Executive has administered 87,143 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine to residents and staff at long-term residential care facilities. And of these 58,414 have received a second dose.

A further 600 first and 3,000 second doses will be administered in care homes next week as vaccinations are coming close to completion across nursing homes. The consequence is that the inoculated are seeing the benefit a week after their second dose.

HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry said on Thursday the number of laboratory-confirmed cases of Covid-19 had fallen by 82 per cent in nursing homes in the week to February 22nd.

He attributed this to an “early vaccine effect”, prompting calls from the groups acting for nursing homes and residents to restart visits, even under Level 5 lockdown restrictions.

“We need to begin the conversation about how we can get to a position where we can get back to safe in-person visits,” said Nursing Homes Ireland chief executive Tadhg Daly.

“We are now in a position where the vaccinations are almost complete and the early indications are that it is having a very positive impact on nursing home residents.”

He called on the Government set out a “roadmap” on reopening for safe visiting.

‘Beacon of hope’

Nursing homes are only permitted to allow visitors in to see residents in critical or compassionate circumstances under Level 5. Visiting restrictions have applied since last year.

Vaccines had offered “a huge beacon of hope,” said Mr Daly, while infection prevention and control measures and rapid antigen Covid-19 testing could help reopen the homes to visits.

Executive director of Sage Advocacy Sarah Lennonsaid the Government’s latest Covid-19 plan had a timetable for a phased opening of schools and there should be one for care homes.

“A similar approach for nursing home residents would be really welcome and help people’s understanding and patience, and make them feel like there is hope because at the moment it is really quite desperate for people,” she said.

“We are all sitting around waiting to get our lives back back. But for people in nursing homes, time might not necessarily be with them and their families are desperate to get into them.”