‘One nurse for 76 patients’: Taoiseach warned about care home staff shortages

Emails show nursing homes and families pleading for help from Leo Varadkar

 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar received emails warning of staff shortages in nursing homes. Photograph: Julien Behal

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar received emails warning of staff shortages in nursing homes. Photograph: Julien Behal

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was asked directly to help nursing homes suffering staff shortages in Covid-19 outbreaks with one member of the public claiming that just one nurse was caring for 76 patients in a home.

Records released by his department show he received several emails during the pandemic raising concerns about staff levels at care homes that were badly depleted by clusters of infection.

One person emailed Mr Varadkar on April 26th saying they were unable to get information from management at one nursing home where their partner’s mother tested positive for the virus. The woman had experienced a fall and staff shortages meant that her “hourly bed checks” were now two hours apart.

“This, we were told, was because there was one nurse managing two floors of 38 patients on each. One nurse caring for 76 patients,” the individual said in the email to Mr Varadkar.

The home is not identified in the redacted correspondence released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

The person emailing Mr Varadkar said they were awaiting news from the home on whether a doctor had visited the elderly resident as she had a fall the night before in a new room on “a Covid floor of the home”.

“Can you please advise us? We are lost,” the individual wrote.

Another person emailed Mr Varadkar three days later pleading with him “to help the nursing home sector with staff”.

“It is becoming critical now with staff out sick with the virus. Please don’t let this situation evolve as it did in Spain and Italy in their nursing homes,” the individual wrote.

“Giving advice and procedures to nursing homes is inadequate at this point. Nursing homes need staff. Please help. Please don’t leave them to their fate. Please imagine if this was your mother or father or child in a nursing home at this time. I beg of you, please help.”

‘Humanitarian crisis’

A director of nursing at one care home who was out sick with Covid-19 symptoms, copied the Taoiseach on an email sent to regulator Hiqa, Nursing Homes Ireland and the HSE seeking urgent help and said that Covid-19 outbreaks in nursing homes were “becoming a humanitarian crisis”.

“Staff are working long hours and will reach burnout very soon if help is not forthcoming,” the director of nursing said, complaining that the home was “getting little help from all the agencies including Hiqa, NHI and the HSE”.

“Our elderly residents deserve better.”

Another person sought “urgent action” from Martin Fraser, secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach, on March 25th to help nursing homes to replace staff out sick with Covid-19 or isolating by making more funding available to homes and a premium to low-paid care workers.

“We have seen reports in the media of nursing homes in Spain with elderly people left unattended and lying dead in their beds for days ... it is horrific – but in Ireland we are facing the same situation within weeks,” wrote the individual in an email.

‘Poxy lockdown’

A student worker in a nursing home complained to the Taoiseach at the end of April that she and other students were “risking their lives and their families” in their work during the pandemic but had friends staying at home earning €350 a week under the Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme.

Among the other letters sent to Mr Varadkar were several praising his speeches in March and his handling of the crisis along with requests to ease lockdown measures, including the 2km travel limit to allow “mostly solo” outdoor pursuits such as sailing and mountaineering.

Another writer asked the Taoiseach to end “this poxy lockdown” in an expletive-filled email because they were “sick and tired of sitting in my house with me family”.

“If ye would like to lift the lockdown, I’d much appreciate it and if ye don’t, well I’m telling ye now I’ll cause upraw [sic] because u try living with my family for weeks on end,” she wrote.

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