Coronavirus: 41 more deaths confirmed in the Republic

PPE ‘rationing’ in nursing homes ‘not appropriate’, representative body says

Richard Quinlan, Chief Ambulance Officer for north Leinster and advanced paramedic, demonstrating how the test for coronavirus is performed. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Richard Quinlan, Chief Ambulance Officer for north Leinster and advanced paramedic, demonstrating how the test for coronavirus is performed. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

An additional 41 people have died from coronavirus in the Republic, it was confirmed by the Department of Health on Saturday.

This brings to 571 the total number of deaths in the State from Covid-19.

Of the 41 deaths reported on Saturday, 18 were men and 23 were women while their median age was 83 years.

Some 35 of those who died had underlying conditions.

Of the latest deaths 35 were located in the east, two in the north west and four in the west of the country.

An additional 630 new confirmed cases of the disease were reported by Irish laboratories on Saturday as well as 148 confirmed cases by a laboratory in Germany, to which tests were sent for analysis to ease a backlog. With the latest figures from Germany included, there are now a total of 14,758 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.

Also on Saturday a further 17 deaths from Covid-19 were reported in Northern Ireland.

Minister for Health Simon Harris, in an update on Twitter on Saturday evening, said there has been a slight fall in numbers in hospital with Covid-19 over the past two days.

He said too the Health Information and Quality Authority would publish research it has done on speedy antibody tests and all testing options available across the world for the virus in coming days.

While he would love to see schools open that would only happen at a time that is “safe” for that to happen. He said “public health comes first, second and third”.

Asked what would happen on May 5th, the date to which restrictions on public movement have been extended to, he said that would depend on what happens over the next two weeks.

Replying to a question on whether Electric Picnic would go ahead this year, he said it was unlikely we will have such mass gatherings any time soon. “We are going to have to very shortly make a decision on these mass gaterings. I think its unlikely that we are going to see mass gatherings come back any time soon. I think we are going to have to keep up our social distancing even if we can lessen some of the restrictions in place as well”.

Defence forces

Earlier it was confirmed the Defence Forces may become involved in testing residents and staff in nursing homes for the coronavirus.

The Irish Times understands that paramedic staff in the Defence Forces have been alerted this weekend that they may be brought in to assist in a major programme to carry out testing for Covid-19 in nursing homes in the coming days.

The Irish Times understands that paramedic staff in the Defence Forces have been alerted this weekend that they may be brought in to assist. Photograph: Alan Betson
The Irish Times understands that paramedic staff in the Defence Forces have been alerted this weekend that they may be brought in to assist. Photograph: Alan Betson

Up to 100,000 staff and residents in long-term residential care facilities are to be urgently tested for Covid-19 in an effort to bring the disease under control among vulnerable groups.

It is understood about 20 emergency medical technicians in the Defence Forces have been put on standby this weekend to become involved in the programme.

There had been some discussions last week between the HSE and the Government about Defence Force personnel potentially being deployed to work in nursing homes. However, this did not happen.

A separate deal agreed with trade unions in recent days will see some existing health service personnel volunteer to work in private nursing homes which are under pressure as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Sources said the current plans would involve Defence Force members only taking part in the planned testing programme.

The intensive programme of testing of staff and residents in nursing homes for Covid-19 was announced by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Friday and will take place over the coming week or so.

Deaths in residential care facilities account for more than half of all coronavirus fatalities reported so far. The deaths of significant numbers of vulnerable residents in centres in Portlaoise and Dublin were revealed in recent days.

‘Rationing’

Meanwhile, Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) said “rationing” personal protective equipment (PPE) in older person’s facilities was “not appropriate” and “flies in the face of previous commitments”.

On April 15th, a memo was sent to nursing homes and other healthcare providers by the Midlands, Louth, Meath community area of the HSE advising them of the revised ordering procedure for PPE.

The memo stated: “Orders will now be based on the number of confirmed positive/suspect client cases in a unit/service”.

The order will be calculated based on an algorithm, the memo added.

Tadhg Daly, chief executive of NHI, said this is “basically a rationing of PPE and this is not appropriate”.

Tadgh Daly, the chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland.
Tadgh Daly, the chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland.

“I’ve been speaking of the need to make sure we can put all the necessary measures in place to ensure that the remaining 70 per cent that are currently Covid-free are supplied with PPE. It flies in the face of this and it flies in the face of previous commitments,” Mr Daly told the Saturday with Cormac O’hEadhra show on RTÉ Radio One.

“Our difficulty at this point in time is that there is no consistency in terms of PPE, both in terms of quality and quantity. What we’re concerned about in the nursing home sector and in Nursing Homes Ireland is that the commitments that we’ve spoken of have not been delivered. Every day counts at this point in time.”

PPE

In response, Minister for Health Simon Harris said the health service has improved the distribution of PPE but acknowledged that there was still work to be done.

“What it [the memo] basically means is that clinicians in our health service - clinicians, not politicians, and not nursing home owners - are deciding how best to distribute personal protective equipment to make sure that we get the best use out of it,” he said.

“Can we continue to do better in terms of personal protective equipment? I have no doubt about that.”

He added that all nursing homes who need access to PPE are able to apply for it, that more than 278 homes have already received the equipment and that the HSE has distributed more than one million pieces of PPE to nursing homes already.

“From Tuesday, a checklist is being published by Hiqa [the Health Information and Quality Authority], a regulatory framework, that every nursing home, including our own which will be challenging for the HSE too, needs to say that it has absolutely complied with it,” Mr Harris said.

“Then inspections will start. Inspectors will be calling to every nursing home in Ireland to check that they’re actually adhering to that.”

In recent days, concerns have been raised about the safety of staff and residents in residential care facilities.

Deaths in residential care facilities account for more than half of all coronavirus deaths reported so far, with the deaths of large numbers of vulnerable patients in centres in Portlaoise and Dublin being revealed in recent days.

Covid-19 is present in almost 30 per cent of nursing homes. There are currently 335 outbreaks in residential care facilities, of which 188 are in centres operated by private providers and 112 in HSE facilities. Another 28 are in centres run by section 38/39 organisations and funded largely by the HSE.

Of the total number of outbreaks, 196 are in nursing homes, though another 49 involve centres where older people are resident.

‘Inadequate’

Also on Saturday the chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland said a €72 million support package announced for nursing homes during the Covid-19 crisis is “inadequate”.

Mr Daly claimed the aid was calculated only on a proportion of residents countrywide. He said the figure was worked out on the basis of 23,000 nursing home residents who avail of the Fair Deal scheme, which helps them finance their care.

It did not factor in 5,000 other residents who are in transitional care, respite or who self-finance their care, he claimed.

“A significant proportion of people cared for in nursing homes are non-Fair Deal,” he said.

“These residents may be availing of the care services of the nursing home for transitional care, respite or rehabilitative care and other residents and their families are paying from their own resources.

“Understandably, the State has leaned upon nursing homes in recent weeks to ensure older people are removed from acute hospital settings. Now it is excluding the costs entailed to encompass their care needs during Covid-19. This is blatant discrimination.”

If the additional 5,000 residents were factored into the financial aid calculations, it would have amounted to millions of euro more, claimed Mr Daly.

However, he said it was a matter of “principle” and no residents would be further threatened or endangered as a result of how the financial aid package was calculated.

NHI has requested an immediate review of the “inadequate” support package.

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