Nursing homes regulator says its powers are 'not adequate' to handle the pandemic

Hiqa was criticised for its “very late” issuance of guidance to nursing homes at the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid Response today.

THE CURRENT POWERS of the nursing home regulator are “not adequate” to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said legislation needs to change to give the regulator more powers to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak.

It also said further change is needed to enable Hiqa to implement the recommendations made in the nursing home report published by the Government last month.

Hiqa chief executive officer Phelim Quinn said it has been highlighting deficits within the regulations since 2013.

He told the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response: “Covid-19 has brought into sharp focus the need to immediately review and enhance the current regulatory framework.

“In the long-term, a reform of established models of care for older people in Ireland is required.

“We have identified in our report that there is a requirement for change within the legislation and regulation.

“The regulations as they currently stand would not have been adequate to deal with the pandemic.”

Sinn Fein’s David Cullinane said if Hiqa is calling for the regulations to be strengthened “the logic of that for most people would be that regulations were not strong enough”.

The committee was told Hiqa stopped inspecting nursing homes on 13 March, which was the same date the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in a care home.

Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd criticised Hiqa’s “very late” response in issuing contingency planning to nursing homes.

The committee was told guidelines were not given to care homes until the second week in April.

O’Dowd said: “It’s during that period that people were dying in nursing homes up and down the country.

“Based on your documents, it’s very self-serving and doesn’t mention your responsibility, accountability and lack of inspection and staff.”

He said families, particularly those whose relatives died in Dealgan House nursing home in Co Louth, have struggled to get information from the authority.

“Hiqa are facing their correspondence with redacted FOIs and with lack of information,” O’Dowd added.

“Families are looking for the truth as to how and why their loved ones died and your refusal to give them that information is deeply hurting them.

“I want to know what happened to those people. The families are not getting answers or closure from HIQA.”

Quinn said he can “guarantee” relatives will be “furnished” with copies of the FOI response.

He added: “We will facilitate the release of freedom of information as much as possible and in as much volume as possible.

“We will seek to address and clarify anything specific issues outside of the FOI request that some family members have asked for.”

He also said Hiqa will consider meeting family members.

Hiqa’s director of regulation Mary Dunnion said: “Like everyone else we were learning and there is no doubt that the response that was required was not immediate but huge structures have been put in place.”

Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall said the report highlights the absence of statutory staffing ratios and the “inadequate” skill mix in nursing homes.

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Brid Smith said she found the Hiqa report to be “alarming”.

She told the committee: “It skirts around a number of key issues that on one sense is jumping out at you, i.e. the largely privatised nature of nursing home sector, however at no stage in your report do you point to that as being a problem.

“One of the starkest figures is that 56% of all deaths during Covid took place in nursing homes and that setting was only 0.65% of the total living population.

“That’s why I think that this alarming figure means we do need to have a public inquiry into everything that happened.”

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