Coronavirus: Non-testing of nursing home residents concerns watchdog

Hiqa queries why residents were not tested in homes where some staff tested positive

Mary Dunnion of Hiqa. Photograph: Tom Honan

The State's health regulator has questioned the Department of Health about why residents at some nursing homes where staff tested positive for Covid-19 were not themselves tested.

Mary Dunnion, chief inspector at the Health and Information Quality Authority (Hiqa), told a senior department official at the start of last month that not all nursing homes among a large number where staff have tested positive for the disease have had their residents tested.

She said that it “may now be timely” to carry out a repeat programme to test all nursing home residents or, if not, to maintain consistency in testing of residents in homes where staff test positive.

Hospital Report

Ms Dunnion set out her concerns in an October 6th email to Kathleen Mac Lellan, assistant secretary for social care and a member of the National Public Health Emergency Team's subgroup on vulnerable people. The email was released under the Freedom of Information Act.


The HSE said last night that public health officials assessed whether to test all nursing home residents after a staff member tests positive.

Nphet on Tuesday reported a further 16 Covid-related deaths, the highest daily reported number since May 27th. Fourteen of these deaths occurred in November and one in October.

This brings the number of deaths related to the virus to 1,963. There were a further 270 new cases reported, bringing the total number of known cases to 65,889.

Some 56 per cent of the new cases are aged under 45. Dublin has the largest share with 82, followed by Donegal with 21, Roscommon with 18 and Limerick and Tipperary each with 17.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said there had been "a significant improvement" in the profile of the disease with a 51 per cent reduction in the 14-day incidence rate on two weeks ago.

“To maintain this positive trajectory, we need to remain vigilant to the highly infectious nature of this virus, which can easily spread from person to person through close contact and by social mixing,” he said.

Infection prevalence

In her email to the department last month, Ms Dunnion said that some homes were reporting more than 20 positive residents “in a single round of testing, indicating the possible prevalence of the infection among the residents for a period of time”.

“Luckily, to date most centres are reporting that these residents are asymptomatic. However, we cannot rely on the situation continuing,” she said.

She raised concerns about the large number of nursing homes where a small number of staff have tested positive on routine testing over the previous four to six weeks.

“Not all centres where staff have tested positive have undertaken a programme of resident testing,” she said.

The HSE said last night that the fourth cycle of fortnightly serial testing of nursing home staff had detected 293 cases from 51,911 tests, amounting to a detection rate of 0.56 per cent.

Meanwhile, American economist Jeffrey Sachs has said that Ireland should have Covid-19 "under control" because islands are much better at controlling the virus than continental countries.

“You could get it down to zero. Use the island advantage to really control the pandemic and show the rest of us how fast this could be brought under control,” the public policy analyst told the Dublin-based Institute of International and European Affairs in an event hosted by the think tank.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times