Nursing homes face time of 'heightened vigilance' - Hiqa inspector

Number of care homes with cases at 118, up from 22 a month ago

Nursing home residents who have recently tested positive for coronavirus are “largely well and asymptomatic” but it is “a time of heightened vigilance”, a senior health inspector has said.

Susan Cliffe, deputy chief inspector at State health watchdog, the Health Information and Quality Authority, said cases in nursing homes reporting infections had increased from two or three staff testing positive to larger numbers of positive residents in a matter of weeks.

“Suddenly, in the last 10 days, we are having centres [nursing homes] with 20 or 30 positive residents,” she said.

Hospital Report

“What is different so far is that the residents are largely well. They may be Covid-19 positive but they are asymptomatic.”

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She said that one nursing home has almost 30 residents who are asymptomatic.

“My fear is that we will turn yet another corner and we will start to see residents becoming ill. That is the one thing we are really watching out for and maintaining close contact. It is so easy for it to come into a nursing home,” said Ms Cliffe.

Hiqa is monitoring 133 homes which have reported confirmed cases and 118 homes with suspected cases, up from 22 homes with confirmed cases and 22 with suspected cases a month ago, she said.

Ms Cliffe said these figures count homes that reported a positive case in the last four to six weeks and are counting down their 28 days since a new case to have an outbreak declared closed.

Hiqa is checking in on nursing homes through the regulator’s daily tracker system.

Concerns have been raised about increasing numbers of nursing homes reporting outbreaks.

Nursing homes are among the settings most vulnerable to the virus, with residents of care facilities accounting for more than half of the 1,817 deaths from the disease during the pandemic.

Outbreaks

The State's deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said on Wednesday that there have been at least six new outbreaks so far in October with five open clusters with more than 20 cases.

Ms Cliffe expressed concern that there was no “consistency of approach” on whether nursing home residents should be tested where staff members test positive as part of the HSE’s serial testing programme to identify asymptomatic cases in order to prevent outbreaks.

“Some centres where positive staff have been identified have not had their residents tested. That is a decision for public health but we have asked the HSE to look at this,” she said.

Sometimes there were “very good reasons for this” such as at one home where a staff member tested positive but had not been in the nursing home for eight days, she said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent