The Irish Times view on nursing homes in the pandemic: the need for an inquiry

Many questions must still be answered about what happened within the State’s nursing homes

Many private nursing home operators, who account for four in every five homes in the sector, felt they were abandoned during the public health response in the first wave of the pandemic. Photograph:  Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Many private nursing home operators, who account for four in every five homes in the sector, felt they were abandoned during the public health response in the first wave of the pandemic. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

 

Nursing homes were ground zero for the deaths and emotional devastation caused during the Covid-19 pandemic. The last set of statistics, released before the cyber attack on the HSE curtailed the collection of data, showed that nursing homes accounted for more than 2,000 deaths or almost two-thirds of coronavirus outbreak deaths. No other sector was as badly affected.

Now that nursing homes are reaping the benefits of the protection afforded from vaccinations, the focus has moved on to reopening our society. But we should not let this respite from the trauma of the virus obscure the many questions that still must be answered about what happened within our nursing homes.

Even the exact numbers of people who died from Covid-19 or with Covid-19 remain unclear

Many private nursing home operators, who account for four in every five homes in the sector, felt they were abandoned during the public health response in the first wave of the pandemic.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid has accepted that mistakes were made in the early stages. Even the exact numbers of people who died from Covid-19 or with Covid-19 remain unclear. The Coroners Society of Ireland has rightly called for a “wide-ranging inquiry” into all Covid deaths in nursing homes. There are other information gaps that must be filled.

A report from health regulator, the Health and Information Quality Authority (Hiqa), last month found that nursing homes were more likely to suffer an outbreak if infection rates were high in the local area but it said reliable data was unavailable to assess the impact of transfers to and from hospitals and other contributory factors that led to the spread of the virus.

Hiqa repeated its call for regulatory reform when it published its 2020 annual report last week, acknowledging “gaps and shortcomings”. This includes older citizens living in “unregulated” services, including religious congregations of older clergy that were particularly badly affected.

As society returns to normal, these areas must be addressed, at the very least for the many families who lost loved ones in the most traumatic of circumstances over the past 15 months.

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