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Bereaved families want answers about their loved ones' final days in nursing homes, committee is told

An expert warned that the huge issue will have implications for the grieving process.

Brigid Doherty, a member of the expert panel on nursing homes, gave evidence to an Oireachtas committee.
Brigid Doherty, a member of the expert panel on nursing homes, gave evidence to an Oireachtas committee.

FAMILIES WHOSE LOVED ones died in care homes during the coronavirus pandemic cannot grieve until they get answers about their final days, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Brigid Doherty, a member of the expert panel on nursing homes, said the “lack” of information about residents’ deaths has been frustrating for families.

She told the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response that there is a “huge gap” in information on how care was provided in the final weeks and days of care home residents’ lives.

Doherty warned that the huge issue will have implications for the grieving process.

Doherty is a member of the expert panel which made 86 recommendations on Covid-19 and nursing homes. The report was published last month.

She also called for an independent advocacy service to investigate complaints or issues raised about nursing homes.

The committee was told that any complaint regarding care in a nursing home is dealt with by the home, which Doherty said was not “very satisfactory” for families.

“The HSE safeguarding services does not have the legislative authority to investigate complaints in private nursing homes,” she told the committee.

“Residents in nursing homes do not have that support as they would do if they were in hospital or at home.

We do need an independent advocacy service for nursing homes and I understand that is being explored, but we need a process of investigation that is independent of the nursing home provider, whether that is private or public.

“The lack of information is frustrating for families, Covid has highlighted this even more, it has brought it to the fore because families were not able able to visit residents.

“People will not begin to grieve for their relatives until they get the answers.”

Chairman of the expert panel, Professor Cecily Kelleher, said its recommendations reflect that systematic reform is needed in the way care is delivered in the future.

He added:

“It was clear from a range of stakeholders that healthcare staff worked tirelessly for the residents and all parties, including carer staff, now require a range of supports.

“Great value was placed on the services stood up to cope, especially Covid-19 Response Teams.

“These supports must be sustained and regularised over the next 18 months. This is a multi-factorial challenge and we must be action driven.”

Sinn Fein’s David Cullinane said the report needs to be reviewed “on a regular basis” by the health committee, when it is established.

“We need to keep an eye on these recommendations and make sure that those recommendations are implemented,” Cullinane added.

“Can I propose that in our final report that is one of the recommendations that we make? This can’t be a report that sits on the shelf or that is cherry picked. We have to really get under the bonnet of it.”

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Doherty also told the committee there is an issue around staffing levels in care homes as there is no statutory requirement for the number of staff or the skill mix in nursing homes at any one time.

“HIQA (Health Information and Quality Authority) do not have powers, and regulations say it is down to the (care) provider to state the level of staff. That needs to change,” she added.

“The Department of Health is commencing the framework for safe staffing and skill mix – it is crucial that happens sooner rather than later, otherwise it’s very difficult to assess whether or not there is an appropriate level of staff.”

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, there have been 283 clusters of Covid-19 in nursing homes. 

Deaths in nursing homes account for 56% of all Covid-19-related deaths. 

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