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30 cases taken against the State over Covid-19 deaths in care settings

The number of cases was released in response to a query from Aontú leader and Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín.

Image: Shutterstock/Tyler Olson

THERE HAVE BEEN 30 legal cases initiated against the State over deaths that occurred in nursing homes, hospitals or residential settings after people contracted Covid-19 in those settings.

In a statement in response to a parliamentary question posed by Aontú leader and Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín this week, the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said:

“I have been informed by the State Claims Agency (SCA) that the number of claims currently being taken against the HSE, notified to the SCA, which arise from the death of a family member as a result of contracting Covid-19 in a nursing home, healthcare facility or hospital setting is 30.”

Minister Donnelly said the State Claims Agency arrived at 30 legal cases by searching for claims that refer to ‘hospital’, ‘residential care’ or nursing homes’ in entries logged in the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

These claims relate to incidents occurring within care settings, and that this includes “the death of a service user or staff member”.

Tóibín said: “It is not surprising to see individuals and families taking cases against the State under these circumstances.

What went on in our hospitals and nursing homes during the pandemic is nothing short of a national scandal.

“Every village in Ireland is familiar with these instances – where a simple hospital check up, appointment or cautionary admission became a death sentence – where families were unable to visit their loved ones, where coffins were kept shut and sympathisers were confined to the sides of the road as the funeral drove past.”

Staffing appeared to be the major issue in both settings – outbreaks in wards saw huge numbers of staff self isolating and situations where a handful of staff were left looking after entire wards on their own. Families in some areas struggled to get any update from the hospital on their loved ones’ conditions.

On Friday, the HPSC issued advise that Covid-19 passes would be required for visits to nursing homes from Monday.

Stats and court cases

As of January, over 1,500 staff and residents in nursing homes had lost their lives during the pandemic – with over a fifth of these in January alone. 4,300 positive cases were recorded in nursing homes during January this year, 37% of them healthcare workers.

There was an estimated 813 Covid-19 deaths in care settings the first wave (1 March to 1 August 2020), which was more than half the total deaths for the entire first wave. There were 105 deaths in the second wave (2 August to 21 November 2020).

A joint-report compiled by the health watchdog Hiqa and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) on the first and second waves of the pandemic concluded that there was a disproportionate number of deaths in nursing homes. 

The Times had reported in July that 45 families are suing both private and State-owned nursing homes over the wrongful deaths of family members during the coronavirus pandemic.

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The Irish Independent had reported in August that sixteen cases were taken against the HSE for damages after their family members contracted Covid-19 in State care settings and died.

High Court action was launched earlier this year on behalf of 19 individuals from Ireland who are challenging a decision by the Minister for Health not to establish a formal investigation into the circumstances of Covid-19 deaths in care homes in the State.

Tóibín said: “Nurses and nursing home managers were taking to social media begging for assistance, as staffing support from the HSE was not forthcoming on far too many occasions.

The families of people who died after contracting the virus in nursing homes or hospitals deserve answers and closure – a full scale public investigation would afford them that opportunity.

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