Elderly care will require ‘significant changes’ to manage Covid-19

HSE chief to tell Dáil committee that half of nursing home infection clusters now ‘closed’

Paul Reid, chief executive of the HSE, believes the elderly care sector will need to change in order to tackle further outbreaks of the virus or other diseases. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA Wire

Paul Reid, chief executive of the HSE, believes the elderly care sector will need to change in order to tackle further outbreaks of the virus or other diseases. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA Wire

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There will have to be “very significant changes” to how vulnerable older people are cared for in the Covid-19 pandemic, the head of the Health Service Executive will warn.

Paul Reid, chief executive of the HSE, will tell the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee on Thursday the elderly care sector will need to change in order to tackle further outbreaks of the virus or other diseases.

“It is clear that there is a requirement for very significant changes in relation to the model of care that are used in this country to care for our most vulnerable older people,” Mr Reid will say.

“These changes require a concerted effort across policy makers, regulators, providers and clinical experts to achieve a safe and sustainable model of care into the future.”

He will tell TDs in his opening statement that the areas requiring significant development include overall governance arrangements for private nursing homes, the HSE’s Covid response teams and the funding model for long-term care and alternatives to long-term care.

Nursing homes have endured the worst of the pandemic, accounting for more than half of the 1,710 deaths from the virus in the State since March.

Three new coronavirus-related deaths were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Wednesday along with a further eight cases of the virus. This brings to 25,341 the number of known cases of the disease.

Minister for Health Simon Harris told the Dáil the reproduction number for the virus remains at 0.7 – below the key metric of one – showing that the outbreak is being extinguished.

The team will meet on Thursday to decide which parts of the lockdown restrictions can be lifted more quickly than planned in the next reopening phases on June 29th and July 20th.

‘Extremely challenging’

In a sign nursing homes are making progress against the virus, Department of Health secretary general Jim Breslin will tell the Covid-19 committee that 50 per cent of nursing home clusters are “closed”, meaning that they have been Covid-free for 28 days or longer.

“This has been an extremely challenging time for the residents, staff and families. Some 18 per cent of the 30,000 residents of nursing homes have had a confirmed diagnosis of Covid-19,” he will say.

It has emerged that a request from Nursing Homes Ireland, which represents private nursing home owners, to become a member of the State’s Covid-19 working group on nursing homes in March was rejected because of potential conflicts of interest as it would consider financial supports.

In a document released to the Covid committee, the chair of the working group made up of a number of State agencies said in a letter in late March it would instead consult with private homes.

Private operators, which account for 80 per cent of nursing homes, have criticised their exclusion from public health teams considering measures to help the sector manage outbreaks during the pandemic.

Testing

More than 95,900 tests have been completed in long-term care settings following a NPHET recommendation in mid-April, Mr Breslin will tell the committee.

“Our commitment to recording all deaths associated with Covid-19, whether laboratory confirmed or probable, wherever they occur, means our figures are more accurate than in many countries,” he will say.

Mr Harris said yesterday the number of clusters in nursing homes is “significantly decreasing.”

He was also questioned in the Dáil about the public pay sector deal under which workers are hoping to receive a pay rise in October. He said his “clear view” is that all agreements reached by the State “should be honoured by the State”.

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