A landmark wrongful death claim has been lodged against a Cork nursing home hit by a Covid outbreak, just as the State sheds the last legally-binding pandemic restrictions.
The case against CareChoice Ballynoe and the Health Service Executive was lodged last Friday by Cork man Pat Coyle, whose wife Veronica died in February 2021.
The 64-year-old mother of three, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, tested positive for Covid-19 during an outbreak at the Co Cork home and died just over a week later. Mr Coyle said he was taking the case to find out about his wife’s care and to secure her medical records. “We are forced to go to the legal route to get answers. We need to know how exactly she was cared for,” he said.
A spokeswoman for CareChoice had no comment. The case is the first of a number of wrongful death claims against nursing homes and the HSE.
Solicitor Enda McGarrity, whose practice PA Duffy & Co is representing Mr Coyle and others yet to sue, said many of the cases would centre on claims that nursing homes failed to implement or follow adequate measures to protect vulnerable residents.
The State Claims Agency, which handles the defence of cases for the HSE, has been notified of 41 claims about Covid-19 infections and deaths. An agency spokesman declined to comment.
Majella Beattie of advocacy group Care Champions said family members were "extremely traumatised" by the pandemic. One in three of all 6,443 Covid-19 deaths occurred in nursing homes and other residential institutions.
The move comes as the State prepares a plan for the next phase of the pandemic, including the potential use of “pop up” and mobile vaccine centres in the event the entire country needs to be boosted again this autumn.
A meeting of the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19 will take place this afternoon, with a Government source saying scenarios will be considered where the vaccination effort is required to ramp back up quickly following the summer.
In such circumstances, all channels would be needed again – although there could be a shift away from high-volume mass vaccination centres in favour of smaller settings such as GAA clubs and community centres, supplemented by volumes being done in GPs and pharmacies. The use of both mobile and permanent vaccine centres will also be considered.
The meeting will also consider progress made to date on improving public-health infrastructure, most notably on targets to appoint 84 public-health consultants under a deal agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation last year. About half of these posts have been filled so far, it is understood.
It will also discuss the future of testing and tracing, and whether the statutory basis for mask-wearing regulations, and the use of the Covid pass, should be allowed to expire when the legislation lapses at the end of March – which is seen as likely.
As part of scenario planning, the HSE will be faced with complex logistical questions around retaining a vaccinator workforce – especially when demand is low and the percentage of the population recently boosted is high.