Covid-19: Action urged on shielding virus-free nursing homes

Over 250 care facilities noted as having Covid-19 clusters, but 60% of homes still clear

Nursing Homes Ireland said the Government's focus must be to ensure that Covid-19 does not enter any residential institutions where the virus has not been recorded to date.

The representative organisation for nursing homes met Minister for Health Simon Harris on Tuesday.

There are more than 250 nursing homes which have Covid-19 clusters and hundreds have died. But 60 per cent of homes are free of Covid-19.

Nursing Homes Ireland chief executive Tadhg Daly said it is important to keep Covid-19 out of those homes.


The meeting came on the same day as the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) published new guidelines about how nursing homes can prevent the virus spread into homes or manage an outbreak when it occurs.

Each nursing home has been sent a list of things it must do to ensure the safety of residents. It must return the form to Hiqa which intends to start inspecting facilities for compliance with Covid-19 guidelines next week.

The nursing-home sector say such guidelines should have been published weeks ago.

More than half of all deaths from Covid-19 in the Republic have occurred in nursing homes.

Mr Daly said the issue of Hiqa visits to homes had been raised at the meeting with the Minister.

“We have question marks over it. Nursing homes are restricting visitors. They won’t be going around the rooms talking to residents,” he said. “Our playbook is well laid out at this stage. When we announced visitor restrictions, we were accused of acting unilaterally.”

What about nursing-home staff?

The issue of staffing nursing homes was also raised at the meeting with Mr Harris.

Mr Daly said there is excess capacity in parts of the hospital sector which could be redeployed to nursing homes where the situation is worst.

“Staffing is a critical issue. Testing is the right thing to do . . . If some staff who test positive have to be off, we need others to step up.”

Mr Daly said his members needed clarity on the terms of the €72 million package which the Government announced on April 4th to help nursing homes deal with new outbreaks.

A spokeswoman for the Mr Harris said the meeting with the private nursing-home representatives had been constructive.

She said further talks would take place on Friday.

Meanwhile Siptu has called on the Government to bring the private nursing home sector into State control for the period of the Covid-19 crisis as it did with the private hospitals.

“The Government has agreed to take over 19 private hospitals, with State funding for a period of three to six months. Meanwhile, an alarming number of the most vulnerable senior citizens in private nursing homes are dying of the Covid-19 virus,” said the union’s health division organiser, Paul Bell.

“In other to ensure the most effective examination and oversight of the private nursing home sector, the Government must act now to bring the private nursing home sector under its direct control using the provisions of Section 38 of the Health Act,” he added.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times