Dáil debates

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Covid-19 Pandemic

3:15 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú) | Oireachtas source

Yesterday, under freedom of information, FOI, a document was released to me from the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF. The document was an email, which was issued to nursing homes by the contract manager of the NTPF shortly before 10 a.m. on 12 March 2020. I have already furnished the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Mary Butler, with a copy of this email, which states that the NTPF had been asked to establish capacity within the nursing home sector. It goes on to state that nursing homes will need: "...to have the ability to care for patients coming from [the] acute hospital setting..." and further states:

Facilities must be able to facilitate short term residents being discharged from [an] acute hospital. ...residents...may be nominated by the HSE [and] the Department of Health as applicable for receipt of appropriate funding.

Describing what will happen, the letter states that the individual facility would co-ordinate directly with the discharge unit within the hospital.

This is a damning document. In many ways, it is a smoking gun. We know that the Covid-19 nursing home expert panel found that 10,000 patients were discharged from hospitals into nursing homes in the first six months of 2020. Was it a Government decision to move elderly patients, wholesale, out of hospital beds and cram them into nursing homes? The major question is who instructed the NTPF to issue this email? The email states that nursing homes were asked to establish capacity. Who asked them? That is the first question.

We have also learned a pot of money was offered to nursing homes at this time. How much was offered to get older people out of hospitals? The context of this discussion is pivotal. In early March, nursing homes voluntarily closed their doors to visitors in an attempt to protect vulnerable residents. On 10 March, Dr. Holohan, the Chief Medical Officer, CMO, issued a statement stating that these restrictions were not necessary. This document shows that two days after telling nursing homes to reopen their doors, an email was issued to nursing homes instructing them to make way for a large influx of patients from hospitals. Further FOI documents released reveal that, throughout all of this, the Minister for Health at the time, Deputy Simon Harris, repeatedly ignored requests for meetings from the chief executive officer, CEO, of Nursing Homes Ireland, Tadhg Daly.

The Fianna Fáil Opposition spokesperson at the time was the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and he revealed that the HSE "intercepted" supplies of oxygen, personal protective equipment, PPE, and staff that were meant for nursing homes. Was there a concerted effort by the Government or the HSE to take older people out of the safety of hospitals and cram them into nursing homes during the pandemic? How could this decision be made when the Minister in charge was ignoring appeals from the sector to meet with him, 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?

These were an incredible set of events at a period when there was an influx of Covid-19 in this country. It should be remembered, in all the conversations we have had about Covid, the majority of people who died with Covid were in a nursing home or hospital, two locations owned, or under the regulation of, this Government. Can the Minister answer these questions?


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