The HSE asked the Defence Forces to assist in just nine residential centres during the pandemic, despite the sector suffering exceptionally high death rates and struggling with staffing shortages due to Covid.
In the residential sector, nursing homes were the hardest hit, with approximately 60% of the country's 587 nursing homes experiencing a Covid-19 outbreak. More than half of the State's Covid-related deaths have been linked to nursing homes.
Despite the difficulties experienced by the sector, the HSE asked the Defence Forces to assist just nine nursing homes and other centres in Cork, Clare, Limerick, Offaly, Meath, and Cavan. In total, 1,024 personnel were deployed to these centres. The majority, 524, were sent to assist centres in Cork, followed by Limerick, 228, and Clare with 224 personnel. Their final deployment ended on February 16.
A spokesman for the Defence Forces said they were called in to assist when staff numbers became dangerously low due to Covid-19.
On rare occasions, they carried out clinical duties, following HSE training. But he said that, in general, “all supports provided by the Defence Forces to the residential care home facilities are non-clinical tasks as agreed with the HSE”.
Thepreviously reported on the army’s work in nursing homes in Ballincollig and Douglas in Cork, and Ennis in Co Clare.
Centres in other counties required less help, with just 29 personnel sent to Meath, 11 to Offaly, and eight to Cavan.
Defence Forces personnel usually stayed on site for 10-14 days, but some placements were as short as two days. The longest was for 29 days.
Tadgh Daly, chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland, which represents private and voluntary homes, said he is aware of four homes in these categories supported by the Defence Forces.
“The fact they helped out was hugely welcomed,” he said.
"They would have been a valuable lifeline.”
The decision to call in the Defence Forces is taken by the HSE through local public health doctors working with homes, he said.
Mr Daly did not wish to comment on individual cases or speculate as to whether the Defence Forces could have been used more.