Private nursing homes have raised “very serious concerns” with the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) about the withdrawal of State funding for Covid-19 infection controls later this month.
Tadhg Daly, chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland, has written to chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan about the imminent end of the Temporary Assistance Payment Scheme (Taps) to fund infection controls for nursing homes, warning about the continued "serious risk" from Covid-19 to nursing home residents.
He pointed to recent published findings about the potential risk from Covid-19 reinfections and the increase in cases of the Delta Covid-19 variant, a variant which has been associated with a surge in cases in India.
“Despite extremely high levels of vaccination uptake, nursing homes appreciate the requirement to remain extremely vigilant given the virus is still live within our communities and continues to pose a potentially serious risk to residents in particular,” he said.
Private nursing homes have expressed huge concern about the end of the scheme given that there is no other mechanism to resource the public health measures in question, Mr Daly told Dr Holohan.
Nursing homes do not want to end improved infection prevention and control measures, but such measures are “entwined” with support provided by the scheme since April of last year, Mr Daly wrote.
Mr Daly asked Nphet to confirm whether enhanced infection prevention and control measures should be “maintained or reduced” in light of the end of the State financial support scheme.
“We are bringing the withdrawal of this vital support to your attention as we consider it presents a very considerable public health concern in the context of Covid-19,” he wrote.
Nursing home owner Kieran O’Reilly, co-owner of Mooncoin Residential Care Centre in Co Kilkenny, said that the Government should permit nursing homes to open up to unrestricted visiting if it withdraws funding to support current infection control measures.
He said the €134 million State scheme helped fund infection prevention measures and staffing so he could divide his 78-bed care home into three cohorted, protected areas to avoid an outbreak.
“It is very disappointing that the worst-affected sector of society during the pandemic is the first to have its support withdrawn,” said Mr O’Reilly.
A spokeswoman for Minister of State for Older People Mary Butler said that Taps was temporary and there were no plans to extend it given the "significantly improved situation in nursing homes".
Mr O’Reilly said he still did not believe it was the time to withdraw funding, because nursing homes still required dedicated staff to manage visiting restrictions and other infection controls.
He described the Government’s proposed funding alternative – an outbreak assistance payment to be made available until the end of the year – as a “pointless retrospective funding mechanism”.
“If Covid gets in, it is too late. The horse has bolted. Any funding that comes in at that stage is racing to catch up. Taps enabled us to put preventative measures in place,” he said.