Staff at nursing homes had to wear painters’ overalls and goggles and relied on protective equipment from a local vet as they struggled to get stock, it has been revealed.
The huge backlog in personal protective equipment (PPE) forced hundreds of nursing homes in Ireland to introduce contingency measures.
Correspondence between the Department of Health and Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) was given to members of the special Covid-19 Oireachtas committee on Tuesday.
In a survey carried out by NHI on April 7 and 8, managers at nursing homes outlined their difficulties in sourcing PPE for staff.
One stated they are using painters’ overalls, painters’ goggles and surgical masks. Another said they had received eye protection from a local school, overalls from a vet as well as face masks purchased from a dress masker.
Others spoke of being “exhausted” worrying about the supply of PPE while another said the staff were “threatening to leave if we cannot provide them with the appropriate PPE”.
The survey was sent to the health department.
Sinn Fein’s David Cullinane said the correspondence between NHI and the Department of Health “illustrate” concerns raised by NHI CEO Tadhg Daly.
Mr Daly has criticised the State’s response to nursing homes, accusing the Government of leaving residential facilities and residents “isolated”.
Mr Cullinane said nursing home staff using painters’ overalls was “profoundly shocking”.
Sinn Fein’s Louise O’Reilly told the committee staff in the nursing home sector were left “begging for assistance and PPE” from the State.
She said the Department of Health provided committee members with copies of its correspondence with NHI, which ran into hundreds of pages, less than two hours before the committee began.
“You were flooded with patients and starved of staff,” Ms O’Reilly added.
We need to stop this game of blaming everybody and accept the fact that we are not doing enough and we have never done enoughFergus O'Dowd, Fine Gael TD
Mr Daly told Ms O’Reilly the surge that was expected in hospitals “materialised” in the nursing home sector.
He added that there should have been a national plan to deal with nursing homes.
Ms O’Reilly added: “At the time they were preparing the acute hospitals they were transferring large number of patients from there in to the nursing home sector and they were not tested.”
Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd told Mr Daly the privately-funded nursing home sector has a lot of money to buy PPE, to pay for testing as well as extra staff.
The TD also said Mr Daly’s accusation that State organisations left the nursing home sector isolated was “patently untrue”.
“I believe (the State) did assist you and I believe you could have done lot more for yourself and you didn’t do that,” Mr O’Dowd added.
“We need to stop this game of blaming everybody and accept the fact that we are not doing enough and we have never done enough.”
Social Democrat co-lead Roisin Shortall said there were a series of policy failures in nursing homes.
She added: “The first is the two-tier health service, the second is social care being treated as the poor relation of the health service and the third is the fact that nursing homes are regarded as a good investment opportunity as opposed to a central element of the health care service.”
Sage Advocacy executive director Mervyn Taylor told the committee that over recent decades the State’s approach to residential care of older adults has been one of “retreat in favour of private providers”.
He said: “The State, having outsourced the service, practised ‘sectoral distancing’ while the public, notwithstanding the excellent service provided by many facilities, has grown increasingly wary of the dark side of private investment in human vulnerability.”
Meanwhile, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) said an inspection will be carried out at Dealgan House nursing home in Dundalk, Co Louth, on Wednesday.
Concerns were raised by deputies in the Dail on Tuesday as 22 residents of the home have died with coronavirus since April 1.
Sinn Fein TD Ruairi O’Murchu said demand is growing from families for an inquiry into what happened at Dealgan House.
Mary Dunnion, chief inspector of social services with HIQA, said: “A review of the situation at that setting has begun and we have completed meetings with relatives of the families there and we will be carrying out an inspection there tomorrow.”
Dr Colm Henry, the HSE’s chief clinical officer, later told the daily Covid-19 media briefing that there had been a “huge diversion” of resources to the nursing home sector.
He said no differentiation had been made in the funding approach to the private and public sector homes.
“There has been a huge diversion of resources to the nursing home sector both public and private,” he said.
“Private nursing homes alone we have now proved in excess of 27 million euro worth of PPE and that’s over 11,500 deliveries.
“We have had difficulties with PPE and we have had difficulties with testing right through our narrative here in this pandemic, but we haven’t differentiated our PPE approach or testing approach.”