Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Health): Statements
Simon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
I acknowledge that Deputy O'Dowd has been working on nursing home issues, if I may call them that, since long before I was a Member of this House. He has championed the rights of older people, so I take very seriously what he has to say about the matter. He is right. At the end of this pandemic, or when a new Government is formed, there will be a big job of work for this Oireachtas to do in moving forward with a new model of care for our older people. We have all been saying for years that we want people to be able to grow old in dignity in their own homes. This House, however, has never passed legislation to make that happen. Regardless of which parties have been in government, that has never happened. There is no statutory home care scheme. Incidentally, we have a scheme nearly ready and a new Government, whoever the Minister for Health may be, should be in a position to bring that forward quite quickly. A statutory home care scheme is key.
The second issue, without getting into the ownership model, whether it be public or private - Deputy O'Dowd referred to both - is the connectivity between a nursing home and the health services, as he rightly says. The idea cannot be that because someone has gone into a nursing home, our responsibility of care to him or her lessens. There are serious lessons for Ireland and the world in that regard.
The idea of the expert review panel is to look at what we have done in Ireland and how it has gone, what is in place that we need to keep given that this pandemic is not over and we need to continue to shield and protect vulnerable people and what other countries have done and whether we can learn anything from them. The idea is that the leading geriatrician, leading public health expert, senior nurse and public interest representative will come back to us by the end of June, feed that information back into NPHET and share it with this House. That will be very useful.
Deputy O'Dowd has been in touch with me about Dealgan House Nursing Home. I will await the outcome of the HIQA report. As I said to Deputy Ó Murchú, in my role I need to be careful not to pre-empt what I will do on foot of receiving such documents, but I take the matter seriously. Deputy O'Dowd is also right about the issue of people wanting closure. I took the opportunity to FaceTime some staff and residents in nursing homes around the country the other day and noted the connection and the bond between staff and nursing home residents. They are like a second family so many of the staff are grieving as well, and I acknowledge that.
On the issue of saying goodbye, the Taoiseach met some religious leaders recently to discuss how we can safely get church and religious services, including funerals, back up and running. That meeting was very useful. The Irish Hospice Foundation also wrote to me yesterday and I intend to meet its representatives next week. People are grieving and hurting as a result of Covid and non-Covid deaths and we need to look at how we can do better in that regard.
I will reflect on the Deputy's comments on HIQA and come back to him.