Dáil is told Minister to recruit panel on nursing homes

Group to have public health expert, geriatrician, nurse and public interest representative

A senior nurse will be part of the proposed expert panel on nursing homes. File photograph: The Irish Times

A senior nurse will be part of the proposed expert panel on nursing homes. File photograph: The Irish Times


The establishment of a nursing-home expert panel has been announced by Minister for Health Simon Harris.

Mr Harris told the Dáil there had been “particular focus on the challenges in the nursing home sector and it remains an absolute priority for me”.

He added that it is a “crucial aspect of good planning” in navigating the coronavirus landscape to “ensure the best possible safeguards are in place to protect the many people who call nursing homes their home”.

The four-member panel will be chaired by a public health expert and also include a geriatrician, senior nurse and public interest representative.

Speaking in the Dáil during an ongoing debate on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the health service, Mr Harris said the reproduction rate, the rate at which an infected person transmits the disease remains stable “at around 0.5”. The Rnought rate as it is also know, is between 0.45 and 0.63.

“For four weeks in a row, this number has remained significantly below 1,” he said. “Four weeks ago, our case numbers were in the region of 400-800 every day. This week, for four days in a row, our cases numbers have been below 100. This day last month, 774 people were in hospital. Today, 367 people are in hospital. On April 21st, 132 people were in ICU [intensive care]. Today, that number is 49 people.”

The recovery rate has reached 87.1 per cent and 258 people have been discharged from intensive care. He also said that of 16,064 cases 58.6 per cent did not have an underlying condition.

The Minister said beginning reopening the economy was a result of the efforts of the Irish people. But he warned that “if we do not stay smart it will come forward again. The progress made is contingent on our actions.”

He said “we will continue to live with this virus and its impact for a long time to come” and it is important to plan for the future. It is also critical to examine what had happened in nursing homes, the measures adopted so far and to consider international experiences, approaches and identify any further best practices.

He said “getting back to normal will not mean going back to the way we were before. So it needs to be understood that while we have this clinical roadmap . . . we will have to remain flexible and capable of responding to any changes in the behaviour of the virus.”

Addressing the issue of clusters in meat processing plants where there are 16 outbreaks with 828 cases, he said Health Service Executive established a national outbreak-control team and specific guidance has been issued to all meat factories.

Will Nursing Homes Ireland be represented?

So far between 55 per cent to 60 per cent of employees in meat factories diagnosed with Covid-19 have recovered and returned to work, he said. The National Public Health Emergency Team would consider the issue on Friday.

Fianna Fáil TD Mary Butler called for Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) to be represented on the taskforce.

Mr Harris said NHI had been informed about the taskforce and the panel would engage with stakeholders, but he did not plan for them to be on the expert panel.

He told Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly that the passenger locator form for those arriving in the State was still on an “administrative” basis. But he would address Cabinet on the issue this Friday and he believes the forms should be put on a statutory footing.

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