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“Damning”: New FOI shows elderly patients moved “wholesale” from hospitals to nursing homes as Covid hit, says Tóibín 

Peadar Tóibín TD has read what he described as a “damning document” into the Dáil record in which he says it appears that the Government moved elderly patients “wholesale out of hospital beds and crammed them into nursing homes just as Covid hit the country”.

Over 2,000 people died with Covid in Nursing Homes, but commentators have said that even though early evidence showed older people were most vulnerable from the virus, residential homes were left struggling for help and direction.

Now, according to the Meath West TD, many who died may have been moved from hospitals to nursing homes even as the virus was impacting heavily on older populations.

Deputy Tóibín said that “The context here is pivotal in this discussion – in early March nursing homes voluntarily closed their doors to visitors in an attempt to protect their vulnerable residents. On the 10th March Dr Holohan, the CMO, issued a statement saying that such restrictions were, I quote, ‘not necessary’. What this document shows is that two days after telling nursing homes to reopen their doors, an email issued to nursing homes instructing them to make way for a large influx of patients from hospitals”.

The Meath West TD  said that evidence released to him under  the Freedom of Information Act from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF)  included an email which was issued to nursing homes by the contract manager of the NTPF to nursing homes in March 2020.

Dated 12th March,  the email stated that “the NPTF have been asked to establish capacity within the nursing home sector”. It continued: “nursing homes will need to have the ability to care for patients coming from the acute hospital setting” and “facilities must be able to facilitate short term residents being discharged from the acute hospital.”

“Residents may be nominated by the HSE or the Department of Health as applicable for receipt of appropriate funding,” the email continued. It advised: “the individual facility will coordinate directly with the discharge unit within the hospital”.

Tóibín, who is leader of Aontú described the email as “a damning document.”

“In many ways it’s the smoking gun,” he told the Dáíl.

“We know that the Covid-19 Nursing Homes Expert Panel found that more than 10,000 patients were discharged from hospitals into nursing homes in the first six months of 2020. Was this a government to move elderly patients wholesale out of hospital beds and cram them into nursing homes? The major question here is who instructed the NTPF to issue this email? The email says they were asked to establish capacity – who asked them? There would be a pot of money. How much was offered to get older people out of hospital?” he asked.

“Further FOI documents released reveal that throughout all this, the Health Minister, Simon Harris, was repeatedly ignoring requests for meetings from the CEO of Nursing Homes Ireland, Tadhg Daly. The opposition Health spokesperson at the time, Stephen Donnelly – revealed that the HSE had, I quote ‘intercepted’ supplies of oxygen, PPE and staff which were meant for nursing homes.”

“Was there a concerted effort by the government or HSE to take old people out of safety of hospitals and cram them into nursing homes during the pandemic? How could this decision be made when the Minister was ignoring the sector, when Nursing Homes were having their PPE, Oxygen and staff taken from them by the HSE and when the CMO was telling nursing Homes to keep their doors wide open to the public,” he said.

“I understand we’ve had a change of government since this. But I feel it important now that the previous government and Ministers answer questions on this matter. Minister Simon Harris needs to clarify whether or not he knew about this letter – whether or not it was his decision to send the letter.”

“Further FOI documents released to us show that on 19th October 2020, Minister for Older Persons and Mental Health, Mary Butler wrote to the CEO of the HSE Paul Reid, seeking assurances that the HSE would continue to provide staffing supports to nursing homes. Paul Reid didn’t respond to Minister Butler for a full month! When he did respond he said that all was well – the HSE would continue to provide the nursing staffing supports to nursing homes”.

“On the 16th October 2020 he said the same thing in a letter to Phelim Quinn, the CEO of HIQA – writing, I quote “I am disappointed that you state that certain private nursing homes are not reporting good support from the HSE”. During that time period, while Mr Reid was telling both HIQA and the Minister that all was well while  I had nursing homes on the phone to me literally crying for staff supports. I’m thinking specifically of the case in Galway – which occurred almost exactly at the same time that these letters were issued, where the whole nursing home, bar two staff, tested positive, and were left without any support – resulting in the two negative staff members being unable to leave the nursing home as there were no replacement staff.

The headlines of the newspapers screamed staff shortages in Nursing Homes and Hospitals while the 75,000 people who applied for the ”Be on call for Ireland’ were left pretty much untouched. When will this be investigated, when will there be accountability, When can we be sure that this wont happen again?”, concluded Tóibín.

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