Efforts to contain coronavirus outbreaks in Irish nursing homes must be redoubled, the chief medical officer has said.
Dr Tony Holohan said nursing homes and other long-term community residential facilities were a priority as he again expressed concern at the rate of infection in the sector.
His comments came as Dr Siobhan Ni Bhriain, the HSE Integrated Care lead, insisted nursing homes were not the “poor relation” when it came to the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE).
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Earlier on Wednesday, it emerged that some healthcare workers are set to be redeployed to private nursing homes in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.
There had been 250 infection clusters identified in residential community settings as of midnight on Monday this week, with 159 of those in nursing homes.
At that point, 290 residents who contracted Covid 19 had died, 245 of whom were nursing home residents.
Dr Holohan said: “A range of different measures are in place at this point in time to help to address that sector because that sector is a priority for us.
“It is the area within our population or society where we have a particular challenge and it’s therefore a particular focus of our work.
“We think, for the most part, we have made significant progress in reducing the risk of transmission of this infection in the wider community, out in the streets and out in communities and so on for the reasons that are clear and obvious we’ve seen that in the disease, but we have a continuing challenge in nursing home and community settings.
“And we’ve set that out – there has been a pattern of mortality and infection in that sector that means that we need to redouble our efforts, we need to continue to prioritise and we’ve said all along that we continue to be concerned about that.”
At the daily Covid 19 briefing by the National Public Health Emergency Team, Dr Holohan was asked if advice to close nursing homes to visits had been issued too late in the outbreak.
The chief medical officer said all measures were timed to maximise their impact, stressing that to introduce restrictions too early risked the potential for them to start slipping when they were most needed.
Dr Ni Bhriain said the HSE was involved in a range of initiatives to control infection rates in the sector.
“I think it’s important to emphasise that it’s not just nursing homes we’re talking about, it’s longer term residential care facilities in the disability and mental health sector as well,” she said.
“We have a range of responses to the nursing home and longer term residential care settings, which includes clinical guidance, includes support.
“And certainly there’s no question of those institutions in any way being a poor relation in terms of PPE.
“It is being taken very seriously and responded to with both clinical response infection control and occupational health responses.”