An expert panel on nursing homes appointed by the Minister for Health should be widened to examine the growing concerns of families and health workers over the deaths of residents.
he panel, announced yesterday, has been tasked by Health Minister Simon Harris to “safeguard” residents by examining the measures in place to protect them from Covid-19.
The panel was set up following recommendations made by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet). It will also report to the minister on the international response and “lessons learned” from Ireland’s response to date.
Stephen McMahon, director of the Irish Patients’ Association, said it was not clear from the terms of reference that the concerns of families and health workers would be included.
“Rather than comparing ourselves to other countries, the issue is we have had an unprecedented number of deaths in nursing homes,” he said. “It would seem that the damage to nursing homes seems to have occurred in the first few weeks of the pandemic in Ireland. Residents themselves and the families of deceased residents need to know was any of this preventable.”
He said the expert group should also be asked by the minister to consider whether any further inquiry into the State’s response is necessary.
“The expert group has to be transparent in its findings, and there has to be clarity around whether a full independent inquiry is warranted or not warranted.”
Ireland had the second highest death rates from Covid-19 in the world, according to a study published last week. The report by the International Long Term Care Policy Network said that 62pc of all Covid-19 deaths occurred in care homes. This figure compared with 82pc in Canada and 51pc in France. The report pointed out limitations of the data because countries record Covid deaths differently.
The Department of Health said last weekend that the death rate of residents in nursing homes was 55pc and it was 63pc across all long-term care centres.
Health officials have defended Ireland’s attempts to protect nursing home residents from the spread of the virus, pointing to the international experience.
The health regulator, Hiqa, has received almost 300 “concerns” about Covid-19 infection in nursing homes, from families, health workers and others. Some families have called for inquiries into deaths of loved ones, including Jane Carrigan, whose aunt, Rose Hegarty, died after contracting the virus in St Mary’s Hospital nursing home in Dublin, one of the worst affected by the virus.
Ms Carrigan has called for a statutory inquiry into the State’s response.
Commenting on the expert panel yesterday, Ms Carrigan said it was important to ensure protections were in place for residents “given that the evidence seems to suggest that more waves are coming”.
“I do feel an inquiry might explain why it happened, and how it can be prevented in the future,” she said. “It struck me that some nursing homes were able to minimise an outbreak and some were not. Some were public nursing homes. Some were private ones. It raises lots of questions and I am not sure an expert panel will be able to answer these questions.”
The expert panel will report to Mr Harris by the end of June 2020. He said it was a “crucial aspect of good planning to support Ireland’s navigation through the Covid-19 landscape and ensure the best possible safeguards are in place”.
The members of the panel are Professor Cecily Kelleher of UCD; retired geriatrician Professor Cillian Twomey; Petrina Donnelly, group director of nursing RCSI Hospital Group; and Bridget Doherty, a patient advocate.
An Oireachtas Committee on Covid-19 meets this week.
Source: Irish News