Virus spread should have been 'higher up on the agenda' for Health Minister, says NHI chief

The head of the private nursing home sector has criticised the lack of intervention from the Minister for Health when the Covid-19 pandemic was sweeping through care facilities.
Virus spread should have been 'higher up on the agenda' for Health Minister, says NHI chief

The head of the private nursing home sector has criticised the lack of intervention from the Minister for Health when the Covid-19 pandemic was sweeping through care facilities.

Nursing Homes Ireland CEO Tadgh Daly said it took almost a month to secure a meeting with Minister Simon Harris at a “very difficult time” for staff and residents.

He felt the issue of the virus spreading should have been "higher up on the agenda" for the minister and his department. Mr Daly also criticised the fact there was no representative for the private nursing home sector on the emergency Nphet health body overseeing responses to the pandemic.

The sector had also asked public health chiefs for a moratorium on hiring staff from the sector, but this was refused, Mr Daly told the Oireachtas Covid-19 Committee today.,

Over half of virus deaths have taken place in nursing homes and infection rates have soared in some facilities.

Mr Daly said, given the age of residents and the complexity of their care, there “should have been a national plan.”

Patients discharged from hospitals and into nursing homes were categorised as “low risk” explained Mr Daly and the private homes took precautions.

He said the first correspondence with the Department of Health was on February 28 about the virus, but no meeting took place with Mr Harris until March 30.

For a period in early March, the situation in private nursing homes was “very distressing” amid calls from families. “It was very difficult,” added Mr Daly, and this was "exacerbated" by the “lack of engagement” from the department and minister.

However, Fine Gael TD and committee member Fergus O'Dowd took issue with the claims.

He said it was “absolutely not true” that the private nursing home sector had been left “isolated” by the state, as claimed by Mr Daly. This was evident from the many letters sent by NHI to the department thanking it for "engagement", he said.

Mr O'Dowd also, in an emotional delivery, criticised the overall care for the elderly in nursing homes and warned “the scandal" of the deaths from the virus could not be let happen again.

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