New recommendations on how to deal with the coronavirus crisis in the hundreds of nursing homes around the State will be issued by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Tuesday.
The news came after figures released on Monday showed there were 22 clusters of coronavirus infections in nursing homes as of Friday, a sharp increase on the four clusters that had been recorded just five days earlier. All but two of the outbreaks have occurred in nursing homes in the east of the country. The remaining two are in the northeast.
Minister for Health Simon Harris met for over an hour on Monday with representatives of Nursing Homes Ireland, the body that acts for the operators of private and voluntary nursing homes. Speaking afterwards, Mr Harris said the clusters in the homes were a cause for concern.
Elderly and vulnerable
Private and voluntary nursing homes, as well as those run by the Health Service Executive (HSE), look after some 29,000 elderly and vulnerable people.
Chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland Tadhg Daly said the operators he represents were "on the front line" in the State's response to Covid-19.
He said he told Mr Harris the sector needed timely access to personal protection equipment, and testing for the virus within nursing homes.
The other issues raised at the meeting were the need for enhanced staffing, and new financial arrangements for the operators of the homes.
Mr Daly has said the sector is concerned about staff being attracted into taking up positions with the HSE and leaving. He also said the increased costs to the homes of addressing the crisis could be in the hundreds of millions of euro.
He said Mr Harris committed to immediately addressing the protection equipment and staffing issues and “to bring forward a package of financial supports for nursing homes before the end of the week”. Each member in Mr Daly’s organisation negotiates its own budgetary arrangements with the State.
Outbreaks in homes
A spokeswoman for the HSE said it was preparing for the expected surge in Covid-19 by ensuring nursing homes were supported by way of clinical guidance, personal protection equipment provision and other additional measures “in the event of significant or large outbreaks of Covid-19 in individual nursing homes”.
Support for the nursing home sector is one of the responsibilities of the HSE's nine Area Crisis Management Teams (ACMTs) in place around the State, charged with managing Covid-19-related problems. One nursing home operator who spoke to The Irish Times said that her concerns included having access to an adequate supply of oxygen for the residents in her facility, should they need it as a result of becoming infected with Covid-19.