Almost one in five residents in Ireland’s nursing homes were diagnosed with Covid-19, it has emerged.
The figure was confirmed as the secretary general of the Department of Health was forced to defend the department’s response to Covid-19 across care home settings.
Jim Breslin denied the nursing home sector was discriminated against after claims that nursing homes were “abandoned” at the outbreak of Covid-19.
Mr Breslin told the Oireachtas special committee on Covid-19 that the deaths in nursing homes are the “most difficult aspect of our national experience”.
Some 18% of the 30,000 residents of nursing homes have had a confirmed diagnosis of Covid-19Jim Breslin, Department of Health
“Each person who has died is deeply mourned by his or her family and all of us collectively,” Mr Breslin told the committee.
“The peak in nursing homes occurred on 22 April.
“Since then, the number of new cases has steadily declined and today, 50% of all nursing home clusters are closed, meaning they have been Covid-free for 28 days or longer.
“This has been a very challenging time for the residents, staff and families.
“Some 18% of the 30,000 residents of nursing homes have had a confirmed diagnosis of Covid-19.
“I want to recognise the enormous efforts of staff in nursing homes throughout the period and others who have supported them. Owing to their efforts, 56% of all nursing homes have remained virus-free and the great majority of residents never contracted the virus.”
However, Sinn Fein’s Louise O’Reilly referred to comments made by the chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland, Tadhg Daly, who claimed there was “no plan” for the nursing home sector for the month of March.
Ms O’Reilly said: “He also said that the sector was exasperated and that they were crying out for a specific plan but that there was none forthcoming. He further said that key state organisations left the nursing home sector and its residents isolated in those early days.
Significant areas for development include assessing the overall governance arrangements for private nursing homes; further development of HSE support structures; funding models for long-term care and alternatives to long-term carePaul Reid, HSE
“Would Mr Breslin agree with Mr Daly that the nursing home sector was abandoned and left without a plan for almost the entire month of March?”
Mr Breslin responded: “I do not agree with that. I do note that Mr Daly also commented very favourably at least half a dozen times on the extent of the engagement he had with the department and the HSE over the period.
“The documents we have released to the committee – 160 separate communications – show just how much engagement and problem-solving was going on at the time.
“The fact that we were dealing in a national situation with the scaling up of PPE supply and testing did have implications for the nursing home sector but that was not the nursing home sector being discriminated against. It was quite the reverse.”
HSE chief executive Paul Reid told the committee it is clear there is a requirement for “significant changes” in the models of care used in Ireland to care for the most vulnerable older people.
He added: “These changes require a concerted effort across policymakers, regulators, providers and clinical experts to achieve a safe and sustainable model of care into the future.
“Significant areas for development include assessing the overall governance arrangements for private nursing homes; further development of HSE support structures; funding models for long-term care and alternatives to long-term care.”
Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd called for a national day of mourning to remember those have died with Covid-19 in Ireland.