The HSE says that it gave guidance to nursing homes on infection control related to Covid-19 in February and had received “very few requests” for assistance from the sector up to March 27.
Nursing homes have been particularly affected by the outbreak of the illness, with 214 outbreaks — that is locations of two or more infections — identified in homes from a total of 268.
In total, 54%, or 156, of the deaths due to Covid-19 as of Friday evening had occurred either in a nursing home or following a referral from one.
Nursing homes had moved to ban visitors in early March, a measure which was deemed too soon by Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan.
However, Dr Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer of the HSE, said that it was too soon to say if mistakes had been made in nursing homes. Dr Henry said that ongoing statistical modelling was being carried out to compare the number of deaths in nursing homes this year against last year in order to fully understand the impact of the disease in nursing homes. He said that the changing nature of the virus made it more difficult to plan for.
“You can look back at what decisions could have been made at what time, but that will maybe be judged at another time. But this is a new virus, it’s a new pandemic, we’ve seen the case definition change, we’ve the pattern change.”
Chief Operating Officer at the HSE Ann O’Connor said that these were “particularly extraordinary times” in the industry and that 155 nursing homes would be supplied with personal protective equipment (PPE) through both planned and unplanned deliveries. She said that the HSE had “worked closely” with nursing homes since the end of January.
Ms O’Connor said guidance went to nursing homes from the end of January and through to March which was focused on infection control. She said that difficulties had begun to be encountered in the last few weeks.
She said the HSE was aware that nursing homes are the permanent residences of their clients and said the organisation was committed to ensuring that people could remain permanently.
However, the HSE’s CEO Paul Reid said that despite a €31 million shipment of PPE arriving in recent days, certain areas “will be tight” on some items, particularly gowns.
This, he said, would continue until at least the end of the week when another shipment of PPE from China would arrive.