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Tóibín calls for Emergency Response Unit for Nursing Homes after 369 deaths in January 

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD has called for an Emergency Response Unit to be set up in support of Nursing Homes in crisis. Today it was revealed that 369 deaths associated with Covid-19 had taken place in nursing homes in January, with 193 outbreaks currently in the care homes.

“We’ve seen a warning from the HSE in recent days that they may not be able to provide any more HSE nurses to care homes in the event that they experience an outbreak of Covid-19. This is a dangerous situation,” Deputy Tóibín said.

He said that staff in nursing homes were “very fearful” and that nursing homes were being left without sufficient help and urgently seeking help when support systems “fell apart”.

Documents secured by Aontú under the Freedom of Information Act show that in a letter to the CEO of HIQA, Phelim Quinn, dated 16th October 2020, the HSE’s CEO Paul Reid wrote; “An entire support infrastructure to protect residents in long term care has been put in place. There has never been any question that the HSE would not continue to provide these supports as part of the ongoing multi-agency response to the pandemic”.

“But we know that a few days later that support system fell apart when two staff members were left alone for two days in the Nightingale Nursing Home in Co Galway after 42 of it’s staff and patients tested positive for Covid-19. They pleaded with the HSE for assistance, but received none for sometime”, added Tóibín.

Deputy Tóibín continued; “Further documents seen by Aontú show that Minister for Older Persons, Mary Butler TD wrote to the HSE in October seeking assurances that they would provide support to nursing homes. Her letter was not responded to for a month. But on 16th November 2020, Paul Reid wrote to the Minister, again assuring her that support would always be available;  “The HSE is committed to continuing the whole range of supports to private nursing homes including major existing programmes such as testing and tracing, Covid Response Teams, Infection Prevention and Control and PPE supply… I would again reaffirm the HSE’s ongoing commitment to supporting the nursing home sector, public, private and voluntary, through the pandemic and beyond”.

Deputy Tóibín continued: “The HSE are now saying they will soon be unable to provide staff support. In recent times I have reached out to every nursing home in my constituency and beyond, to see what is happening on the ground. Staff in care homes are very fearful at the moment, as they try to hang in there without infection until they have all been vaccinated. Unfortunately, for many of them the vaccine is arriving just days or weeks too late”

“I know of one nursing home who suffered five Covid deaths in the week that they were due to receive the vaccine. I know of nursing homes where the situation got so bad that they had to contact the families of patients to ask if they could come in to help feeding their loved ones. It is a dire situation, and few lessons seem to have been learned since the devastation caused by the first wave this time last year”.

“70,000 people signed up to ‘be on call for Ireland’, but only a tiny percentage of them have been recruited to work in the health service. The Minister for Health has told me that a mere 107 nurses have been recruited from that database. Many more have contacted Aontú, saying they signed up months ago, with perfect qualifications, but have not been contacted.,” he pointed out.

“The government need to provide clarity on the status of this database. We in Aontú are now calling for the establishment of an Emergency Response Unit for Nursing Homes. If we could even have up to 10 nurses on standby in each province then it would alleviate some of the nightmares and stress currently being experienced by management, staff and patients in nursing homes. The government and HSE cannot abandon these people, especially while a database of 70,000 nurses is going unaccounted for”, the Meath West TD said.

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