Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Health): Statements
Peter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
I welcome the opportunity to participate in today's debate. I offer my sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who have died over the past week due to Covid-19. The number of deaths is decreasing, which is to be welcomed but the sorrow and grief of those who have lost loved ones to this terrible virus is as painful as at any other time. I would also like to take this opportunity to offer those who are currently fighting Covid my full support and I wish them well during this very difficult time. I also want to take this opportunity to thank the incredible healthcare workers throughout the country, and particularly in County Louth, for the amazing personal sacrifices they have made to keep us all safe.
As the Minister knows, more than 20 residents of the Dealgan nursing home in my constituency have died from Covid-19 since the beginning of April. As I have said previously in this House, I am not interested in a blame game but lessons must be learned and admissions must be made regarding how certain aspects of the Covid-19 outbreak were handled by those in power.
In order to ensure the same mistakes never happen again, it is vital to spell out how certain areas and sectors were overlooked, abandoned and left to fend for themselves for far too long, until it was too late to stop the virus from taking hold. Nursing and residential homes are the most obvious victims of this neglect. It was known from the very start of the Covid-19 outbreak, from what happened in other countries, that the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions were most at risk from this virus, yet nursing and residential homes ranked near the bottom of this list when it came to Ireland's preparations for the outbreak here.
I have a real concern that the management of nursing homes will be made scapegoats and blamed for the high number of deaths that occurred in these settings. Management and staff always have a responsibility for what happens on their watch but the tragedy that happened in so many nursing and residential homes could have been greatly reduced had they been given assistance from the top, as was needed from the very start. It is utterly unacceptable that immediate support was not made available when it emerged that only seven of the 24 nursing staff were available to work in Dealgan House Nursing Home due to staff contracting the virus or being suspected of having the virus. If coming to the aid of nursing homes had been treated as a national emergency, then replacement of staff, provision of PPE and regular testing would have occurred as a priority at the start.
The record is very clear that this did not happen. The result is a huge number of casualties, loss of life and utter devastation for families. All that the families are looking for is answers. They do not want to hear excuses or admissions from those in power regarding the failure to protect their loved ones. The only way lessons will be learned is by ensuring the same neglect of the most vulnerable in our society never happens again.
Does the Minister accept that the Government's failure to act early enough in safeguarding nursing and residential homes contributed to the devastating outcome that befell those homes? Can he confirm that he is planning to set up a public inquiry into what went wrong in nursing homes like Dealgan House Nursing Home in Dundalk?