Some healthcare staff continued to work in nursing homes after testing positive for Covid-19, while others failed to isolate upon returning from overseas, according to complaints received by the state health watchdog.
It was also reported to the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) that hairdressers were continuing to call to nursing homes in breach of restrictions at the height of the pandemic, while visitors were permitted in some facilities contrary to public health guidance.
Approximately 1,650 concerns and complaints were received by Hiqa during the first 14 months of the pandemic, one in five of which related to allegations of poor infection control and breaches of restrictions.
A total of 19 of the notifications expressed concern over mortality rates at specific nursing homes, and one advised Hiqa that a complaint had been made to An Garda Síochána alleging that a failure to ensure the safety of residents during the pandemic had resulted in a number of deaths.
In April 2020, one complainant reported to the health watchdog that an uninfected nursing home resident had been forced to share a room with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus.
Earlier this year, a complaint was made in relation to a healthcare worker who was supporting “anti-mask culture” on social media; while concerns were also raised about nursing home staff who were moonlighting in other jobs in a supermarket and a hospital.
Staff allegedly refused to be tested for Covid-19 at one nursing home, according to records released by Hiqa under freedom of information laws, and were criticised for not wearing face masks at a facility in October 2020.
Another complaint alleged in April 2020 that staff at one nursing home were being required to continue working if they tested positive for coronavirus but were asymptomatic.
Around 330 of the 1,650 concerns and complaints received by Hiqa in relation to nursing homes between March 2020 and June 2021 related to poor infection control and compliance with Covid-19 restrictions.
However, some 115 of the notifications expressed concern or dissatisfaction over the impact that the restrictions were having on nursing home residents, such as social isolation.
Non-Covid-related complaints during the same period including allegations of sexual abuse; residents being served alcohol at 5am; staff smoking cannabis on the grounds of a nursing home, and asbestos being found in garden gravel.
One family alleged that an on-call doctor had advised staff to administer end-of-life care to a resident in April 2020 during a virtual consultation without any physical examination taking place.
Another complainant said they had felt “pressurised and rushed” into signing a DNR (do not resuscitate) form by staff last February, while others complained that loved ones were being left in soiled clothes and bed linen.
A spokesman for Hiqa said that all information received by Hiqa is reviewed by the inspector who is the designated “case holder” for the particular nursing home.
“The purpose of this review is to consider the information against the regulatory history of the centre, identify any trends in solicited and unsolicited information received and to determine if the information is indicative of a wider systemic issue,” he said.
The inspector may then revert to the nursing home to request further information and details of any corrective action that has been implemented. This can be pursued during the next scheduled inspection.
“In addition, Hiqa will also respond directly to the person who raised the concern, advising of our role and remit and, if appropriate, alternative bodies that they may wish to engage with for the purpose of accessing additional information or supports,” he added.