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Special committee on Covid response recommends inquiry into nursing home deaths

The committee has been looking at how Ireland responded to the pandemic.

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A SPECIAL OIREACHTAS committee set up to probe the nation’s initial response to the pandemic has recommended that an inquiry into nursing home deaths be carried out. 

The committee, which is made up of both Government and opposition TDs, has also called for inquiries into meat plants, which were also the source of a number of serious outbreaks of the disease. 

The committee’s first recommendation reads: “That a public inquiry be established to investigate and report on all circumstances relating to each individual death from Covid-19 in nursing homes. Draft terms of reference should be presented for consideration by the Joint Committee on Health by the end of 2020.”

The inquiry will have to look at a number of aspects, the committee’s report adds. 

They are: 

  • The largescale discharge of patients from acute hospitals to nursing homes at the beginning of March
  • The decision-making around those discharges in individual hospitals, and by the HSE, the Department of Health, including NPHET, and by Government
  • The response of those said key actors to the difficulties encountered by nursing homes in preventing and managing the spread of the virus due to staffing difficulties and a shortage of PPE which were communicated to the Department of Health
  • The recommendation by NPHET on 6 March that visitor restrictions to nursing homes were premature
  • Decisions taken not to transfer patients with Covid-19 from nursing homes to acute care settings

The committee also recommended that a review into the impact of the privatisation of Ireland’s nursing home sector be carried out. 

Last month, the committee heard how families whose loved ones died in care homes during the coronavirus pandemic cannot grieve until they get answers about their final days.

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.

Earlier this week, it also emerged that a nursing home in Donegal was dealing with an outbreak in its facility with 30 confirmed cases in the one home. 

Meat factories

Away from the nursing home sector, the committee has also recommended that an inquiry into the meat processing industry take place.

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Its report reads: “An ‘Inquire, Record and Report Inquiry (pursuant to section 7 of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013)’, ‘ should be established to examine the operation of the meat processing industry, including the use of agents to procure workers, to include the State’s response in terms of protecting workers, while ensuring necessary food supplies to the general population, as well as ensuring fairness for primary producers.”

Meat processing plants emerged as a significant hotspot for Covid-19 infections. While the industry is highly regulated regarding food safety and hygiene, the same level of regulation and protection is not extended to workers and their conditions of employment, the committee found.

It also heard that the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) was slow to begin inspections of meat plants and when it did, a high proportion of inspections were pre-announced.

The committee heard that only 20% of Meat Industry Ireland (MII) members paid sick pay to their workers, and that employers in the sector availed of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme. 

The inquiry will investigate these working conditions if given the go-ahead, the committee added.  

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