Nursing home residents at Christmas

 

Sir, – Your article “Covid-19 and Christmas: People may have to limit close contact to family” (News, November 12th) reports that the Government may ask members of the public to limit their close contacts over the Christmas period to family only.

If this is the proposal for Christmas 2020, we urge the Government to consider carefully the impact this could have on nursing home residents and their families.

If residents of nursing homes leave the care facility to spend time with families over Christmas, as so many often do, this would mean that multiple households would essentially then be mixing together when the resident returned to the nursing home. The very nature of congregated care means that this cannot be avoided, unless residents are asked to self-isolate for an extended period, which would be a heavy price to pay for them to pay to enjoy family contact at Christmas.

Sage Advocacy knows from its work that the restrictions on nursing home visitors have taken a toll on everyone associated with nursing homes, the staff, the families but in particular the residents. The threat of Covid-19 is not the only risk to the health of nursing-home residents; loneliness is too, and so it is essential that in the clamour to have a “normal” Christmas, nursing home residents are not only part of any proposed plan, but at the forefront of it.

There are important measures that can be put in place to reduce the risk of Covid-19 in nursing home environments. Evidence clearly shows that the use of masks and other personal protective equipment, together with hand hygiene and cleaning, early detection and a subsequent rapid response are the keys to limiting the risk posed by Covid-19 in nursing homes.

Everyone has a role to play in reducing the risk of Covid-19, and our key priority is always to keep people who live in nursing homes and their carers safe and well. We understand the devastation that occurs when this virus gets among the nursing home population. But simply “locking” nursing home residents away from their families and loved ones is not the answer.

There are a number of examples where other countries have taken a different approach than is currently the case in Ireland. For example, in the UK, some nursing homes have constructed external visitor pods, and the British government is also due to introduce a pilot programme this month when family members of residents in 30 care homes will be tested for Covid-19 before visiting their loved ones.

In Germany, the government is planning to introduce rapid antigen tests for visitors to nursing and care homes.

It is now up to the Government here and nursing home operators to look at how they can do things differently, to put the right systems in place to better support nursing home residents and their families and try to ensure that Christmas can be as “normal” as possible this year for them. – Yours, etc,

SARAH LENNON,

Executive Director,

Sage Advocacy,

Ormond Quay Upper,

Dublin 7.