Care homes ‘not forgotten’ in struggle with coronavirus

No evidence of deaths being more common in public or private nursing homes, says Taoiseach

St Fintan’s Hospital in Portlaoise, Co Laois, where the HSE confirmed that nine residents in the Maryborough Centre, died over the bank holiday weekend. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

St Fintan’s Hospital in Portlaoise, Co Laois, where the HSE confirmed that nine residents in the Maryborough Centre, died over the bank holiday weekend. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

 

Nursing homes will not be the forgotten front line in the war against coronavirus, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil.

But he said the fact the problem was not being dealt with as quickly as he would like was a reflection of the scale of the Covid-19 crisis.

He said safeguarding residents of nursing and care homes was the most pressing issue and the focus of a Cabinet subcommittee.

The virus would take a significant toll on nursing homes because it was very hard to contain once in a nursing home. But their role was to minimise that.

Answering questions during a Dáil debate on the coronavirus crisis on Thursday the Taoiseach said that just under 70 per cent of Covid-19 deaths were taking place in hospital, but that many older people were moved from nursing homes to hospitals where they subsequently died.

He said there was no evidence of deaths being more common in either public or private nursing homes.

TDs from all parties raised concerns about the crisis in nursing homes and the deaths last weekend of eight people in the Maryborough Centre in Portlaoise.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said in that “terrible tragedy” consultants from the local hospital were involved in the decision as to whether people should be moved to hospital or not and palliative-care consultants were also provided.

He said “it can’t be what setting you’re in. It’s how we care for you whatever setting you’re in and that’s the approach we have to take.”

Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall said there were huge concerns about the deaths in disability centres and in mental health settings and she said the figures for those deaths should be provided on a regular basis.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said the most regrettable thing was that the crisis in residential care settings could have been somewhat foreseen.

Nursing Homes Ireland introduced restrictions on visitors on March 4th but the department only gave approval 10 days later and that “has proved to be a monumental and fatal error for many of our most vulnerable citizens”.

Mr Doherty said they had to improve access to personal protective equipment as 29 per cent of their facilities have not yet received supplies.

But the Minister said one million pieces of personal protective equipment were being provided weekly to nursing homes.

‘Public relations and spin’

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said that on March 4th Mr Harris announced a package of financial supports. “To date, not only has not one euro been released, but the nursing homes haven’t had any communication for how this might even be done. They need the help now, not in future weeks or months.”

The Minister stressed the Government was focused on nursing homes. More staff were being provided and funds from the €72 million scheme would start going to homes in the coming days. Mr Harris announced the multimillion euro support package for nursing homes earlier this month which includes financial support for affected homes in an effort to stem coronavirus outbreaks.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said there are two things going on in relation to nursing homes. “One is PR and one is spin”. He warned the Government would lose the public’s support if questions were not answered.

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