© D Storan

How the Irish Government risked the lives of people in nursing homes. And lost.

It’s quite extraordinary, when you put it all in one place, how incompetent the Irish Government has been in relation to the management of the threat Coronavirus poses to nursing homes.

At the time of writing, there are around 214 so-called “clusters” of cases in Irish nursing homes, out of 268 nursing homes in total. How did this happen?

First, it’s necessary to look at the official advice given to nursing home staff in a memo from the HSE:

“THE HSE advised staff in nursing homes they did not need to wear vital PPE equipment when dealing with residents who may have Covid-19.

In a clinical directive given to Nursing Homes by the HSE it was claimed that nurses who stood a metre away from residents and avoided physical contact had no need for an apron, gloves or mask.

Instead they were advised to “attend to hand hygiene” when dealing with residents identified as Covid-19 contact but displaying no symptoms.

Among other issues raised in the memo in March includes instructions not to send patients to hospitals for treatment and not to embalm bodies in case of death.”

Don’t wear protective equipment, and don’t send patients to hospitals?

What possible justification could there have been, in any circumstances, for the latter advice? If a patient with Coronavirus needs to go to the hospital, they need to go to the hospital. Advising staff to keep patients away from hospitals is functionally equivalent to advising staff to allow, in some cases, people to die.

Just imagine, if you will, for a second, what the Irish media would be saying if the same thing had happened in the United Kingdom or the United States – we’d have had about sixteen articles by now from the likes of Fintan O’Toole denouncing the cruel heartlessness of right wing Tory/Trump rule. But this isn’t advice from those countries – it’s from here, in Ireland.

The best bit of this is, of course, that the HSE is now responding to criticism of its management of the nursing home crisis by saying “well hang on a minute, we gave them advice!!”:

The HSE says that it gave guidance to nursing homes on infection control related to Covid-19 in February and had received “very few requests” for assistance from the sector up to March 27.

Nursing homes have been particularly affected by the outbreak of the illness, with 214 outbreaks — that is locations of two or more infections — identified in homes from a total of 268.

However, Dr Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer of the HSE, said that it was too soon to say if mistakes had been made in nursing homes. Dr Henry said that ongoing statistical modelling was being carried out to compare the number of deaths in nursing homes this year against last year in order to fully understand the impact of the disease in nursing homes. He said that the changing nature of the virus made it more difficult to plan for.

You can look back at what decisions could have been made at what time, but that will maybe be judged at another time. But this is a new virus, it’s a new pandemic, we’ve seen the case definition change, we’ve the pattern change.”

Two things there: First, the problem is not that advice was not given. The problem is that the advice was bloody awful.

Second, that quote in bold is atrocious, and they simply cannot be allowed to get away with it: Translated, it says “yes maybe mistakes were made, but let’s judge that another time”.

No, let’s not. Let’s judge it now.

The state has been worse than negligent when it comes to people in nursing homes. Remember this?

What’s worse, for a supposed “newspaper”, is that the Examiner report there simply re-asserts that “advice was given”, without ever asking what the advice was. We know what it was.

The state told nursing homes to keep their doors open.

It told their staff that there was no need to wear personal protective equipment.

It told them not to send sick patients to hospitals.

And now it says “mistakes may have been made, but judge us later”.

The Irish media will spend as much time as they can covering the problems in other countries. But there’s a reason our death rate is tenth worst in the world here in Ireland:

Utter incompetence. It should never be forgotten.

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