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Minister Simon Harris 'to immediately address' PPE shortages in nursing homes

Minister Simon Harris met with representatives of nursing homes today to discuss their role in the Covid-19 crisis.

Image: Shutterstock/Dmytro Zinkevych

Updated Mar 30th 2020, 9:30 PM

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has committed to address PPE and staffing issues at nursing homes by the end of the week, the CEO of Nursing Homes Ireland has said. 

As of midnight on 26 March, there were 17 clusters or outbreaks of Covid-19 in nursing homes in Ireland, according to data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC). 16 of these clusters were recorded in the east of the country. 

Yesterday, Minister Simon Harris said he expects to see measures introduced this week targetted at the spread of coronavirus infection in nursing homes and other residential care settings.

Representatives of Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) met with the Minister today for over an hour, where the NHI outlined the measures it said were necessary to protect people working and living in nursing homes.

NHI CEO Tadhg Daly said: “We informed the Minister of the considerable challenges for hundreds of nursing homes in meeting the care needs of our most vulnerable during Covid-19.

The challenges presented to the Minister centred around timely access to PPE equipment and testing within nursing homes, the necessity for the State to recognise the essential need for nursing homes to be supported around the critical area of staffing, and the need for enhanced staffing and logistical arrangements during this emergency to be recognised in Fair Deal.

Daly said that Harris committed during the meeting to “immediately addressing PPE and staffing issues and to bring forward a package of financial supports for nursing homes before the end of the week”.

Daly thanked the Department and the Minister for engaging with the nursing home sector, and said it was “appreciated” that Harris thanked nursing home staff for their “dedication and professionalism”.

Recommendations tomorrow

After that meeting, Harris said that ”it is a cause for concern that we have seen so many clusters of infection in nursing homes”.

He said that the National Public Health Emergency Team is expected to bring forward recommendations for the government to consider tomorrow.

Speaking on Drivetime this evening, Tadhg Daly said he wasn’t aware that some nursing homes were operating without any Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

“To be fair to the HSE, they have provided PPE where necessary, but not in the quantity that we would require unfortunately.”

He said that they were assured today that extra PPE would be made available to the sector today.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast earlier today, Daly said that testing of staff in nursing homes for Covid-19 hasn’t been happening quick enough. 

“We need to ensure that the staff in the sector are supported, obviously, and that there’s appropriate testing and excessive and very quick turnaround time in terms of results of those tests, so the staff that don’t have Covid can get back to work as quickly as possible,” Daly said. 

“It’s not happening quick enough is what we’re hearing across the sector. There’s quite a number of staff who are awaiting the results of the test who are unfortunately in self-isolation and for many of them they may not need to be when they’re needed on the frontline,” he said. 

In relation to PPE, Daly told TheJournal.ie nursing homes currently have a supply “but in many cases, it’s probably running low”. However, he added that NHI has received a commitment from the HSE that they will receive further supplies. 

Earlier today

Speaking to FM104 this morning, Minister Harris said they “don’t exactly know” how the clusters in the nursing homes came about.

“We don’t exactly know but what we have a sense of, if you think about it, this virus spreads when people are in close contact with each other,” Harris said.

“If you move to a place where lots of people are living, that increases the risk starkly.” 

“We know every winter with the flu or vomiting bug, we see the outbreaks of infection where older people live.”

There are 2,615 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus in Ireland and there have been 46 deaths associated with the virus to date. Ten of those deaths were yesterday – six in the east, three in the northwest and one in the south.

The median age of yesterday’s deaths is 77.

With reporting by Michelle Hennessy and Orla Dwyer

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