Tuesday, 7 July 2020
Department of Health
810. To ask the Minister for Health the reason the national emergency co-ordination group was not used during Covid-19; the reason for the preference for the NPHET in view of the fact that when the National Emergency Coordination Group was formed pandemics were included in its terms of reference; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14279/20]
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) structure is a long-standing mechanism utilised over many years to steer health service responses to public health emergencies as required by Ireland’s obligations under the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations.
These Regulations require State parties to establish multidisciplinary/multisectoral teams to respond to events that may constitute a public health emergency of international concern. This necessitates flexibility in the composition of these national teams in order that they can appropriately respond to major public health emergencies.
As the Deputy is aware, the NPHET for COVID-19 is accountable to me as Minister for Health and is made up of senior public officials of the Department of Health and a number of relevant State Agencies, in addition to highly qualified subject matter experts from disciplines such as virology, infectious diseases, intensive care etc. who are among the leading practitioners in their fields in this country.
The NPHET can add to its membership on the basis of the additional expertise or support it identifies as being required so as to ensure that it is in the best possible position to provide the advice and recommendations for consideration by the Minister for Health and the Government. This flexibility in approach to selection is necessary for a group such as this in the context of an international public health crisis of the kind we are currently experiencing due to the pandemic, and give effect to Ireland’s obligations to the WHO.
A wide range of documentation related to NPHET, including as regards the governance process under which operates, has been published to date and it is intended to continue this process to ensure that the process by which the NPHET's recommendations have been reached is as transparent as possible.
In addition, the Government established a Cabinet Subcommittee, chaired by the Taoiseach, to assess the social and economic impacts of the potential spread of COVID-19. The work of the Cabinet Subcommittee includes addressing the impacts, mitigation measure and contingencies for cross-sectoral issues which arise in areas beyond the health service, building on the effective public health work undertaken to date. A whole of government approach to the coronavirus response requires cohesive decision-making, a partnership approach, expert public health advice and clarity of communications. The Cabinet Subcommittee is supported by a Senior Officials Group and a dedicated Crisis Communications Group which coordinates a whole-of-Government communications response.
811. To ask the Minister for Health the number of investigations being conducted by the HSE regarding Covid-19 related deaths in nursing homes: the locations of the nursing homes that are being examined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14283/20]
812. To ask the Minister for Health his plans to conduct an investigation of Covid-19 related deaths at a nursing home (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14284/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 811 and 812 together.
Since 2009 the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, is the statutory independent regulator in place for the nursing home sector, whether a HSE managed or a private nursing home. The Authority, established under the Health Act 2007, has significant and wide-ranging powers up to and including withdrawing the registration of a nursing home facility, which means that it can no longer operate as a service provider.
This responsibility is underpinned by a comprehensive quality framework comprising of Registration Regulations, Care and Welfare Regulations and National Quality Standards.
HIQA in discharging its duties determines, through examination of all information available to it, including site inspections, whether a nursing homes meets the regulations in order to achieve and maintain its registration status.
Should a nursing home be deemed to be non-compliant with the Regulations and the National Quality Standards, it may either fail to achieve or lose its registration status. In addition, the Chief Inspector has wide discretion in deciding whether to impose conditions of Registration on nursing homes. Any individual cases of concern should be brought to the attention of HIQA and the relevant HSE Safeguarding and Protection Team.
During the response to COVID-19, Nursing homes continue to be regulated by HIQA, who under the Health Act 2007 have the legal authority to examine the operation of any facility under their remit. Any individual cases of concern should be brought to the attention of HIQA and the relevant HSE Safeguarding and Protection Team
In addition, a series of enhanced measures have been agreed by NPHET for long-term residential care settings and these are currently being implemented by the HSE, HIQA and service providers. They include measure to support facilities which have outbreaks of COVID-19, measures aimed at stopping the transmission of the virus and support the provision of PPE to and screening of staff.
All of these measures and actions are aimed at supporting the protection and provision of safe care of the residents of long-term care facilities
On foot of a National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) recommendation, on 23 May a COVID-19 Expert Panel on Nursing Homes was established, to examine the complex issues surrounding the management of COVID-19 among this particularly vulnerable cohort.
The purpose of the Panel is to examine the national and international responses to the COVID-19 crisis, and to examine the emerging best practice. Its main objective is to provide immediate real-time learnings and recommendations in light of the expected ongoing impact of COVID-19 over the next 12-18 months. COVID-19 is a new disease, which can present atypically in the frail elderly, and new evidence and best practice in its management are constantly emerging. I expect the Expert Panel to submit their final report to me later this month.