Watchdog concerned about HSE support for nursing homes

Letters reveal tensions between Hiqa and HSE over care homes’ Covid-19 assistance

 Phelim Quinn: told HSE’s Paul Reid nursing homes were experiencing “significant challenges in securing infection and prevention control expertise and sourcing experienced nurses to staff their nursing homes”.  Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

Phelim Quinn: told HSE’s Paul Reid nursing homes were experiencing “significant challenges in securing infection and prevention control expertise and sourcing experienced nurses to staff their nursing homes”. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

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New records reveal tensions between the State’s health watchdog and the Health Service Executive over whether private nursing homes were being properly supported to manage outbreaks as a second wave of coronavirus infections hit last month.

Letters between the highest-ranking officials at nursing home regulator the Health and Information Quality Authority (Hiqa), and the HSE show the watchdog reported concerns that private nursing homes were not receiving good support from the HSE during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Phelim Quinn, chief executive of Hiqa, told HSE chief executive Paul Reid in a letter on October 6th that nursing homes were experiencing “significant challenges in securing infection and prevention control expertise and sourcing experienced nurses to staff their nursing homes”.

‘Lack of resources’

Referring to a “worrying picture” of rising infections among nursing home residents and staff, Mr Quinn told Mr Reid that some of the HSE’s community health organisation areas were “more challenged to respond than others, with some citing a lack of available resources”.

He asked the HSE chief for an assurance of an ongoing commitment to and coordination of support from the HSE “as the statutory provider of care” to provide support and assist the private and voluntary nursing home sector “in the management of any worsening circumstances”.

Mr Reid replied 10 days later to say the HSE had devoted “very significant resources” throughout the pandemic to “stabilise” private nursing homes and protect their residents, and that an “entire support infrastructure to protect residents in long-term care has been put in place”.

Reid ‘disappointed’

“There has never been any question that the HSE would not continue to provide these supports as part of the ongoing multiagency response to the pandemic,” he wrote in correspondence released by Hiqa to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

“However, your correspondence would seem to suggest that you may have had some uncertainty in this regard, which I can assure you is unfounded.”

Mr Reid said he was “disappointed” to hear Mr Quinn’s reports and asked him for details of the nursing homes experiencing difficulties so this could be reviewed and addressed.

Nursing homes have been at the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic with residents accounting for 39 of the 103 deaths related to the disease last month.

The number of open nursing outbreaks has more than doubled to 56 in just over a month.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Sunday reported a further two deaths related to Covid-19 and 542 more infections. The State on Wednesday will hit the half-way point of the six weeks of Level-5 restrictions.