Tuesday, 13 October 2020
Department of Health
My Department has no plans to introduce legislation to indemnify decision makers as outlined in the Deputy's query.
In relation to the issues raised concerning residential care settings, the very infectious nature of the COVID-19 virus makes it difficult to prevent and control in residential care settings, including nursing homes - an experience replicated internationally. Interrupting transmission of the COVID-19 virus is the main goal of public health measures and it is clear from the experience that the scale of effect of interruption of transmission is influenced by a number of factors. The most important way to protect our older population, whether living at home or in a long-term residential care (LTRC) setting, has been to reduce the amount of disease present in our community. The transmission of the virus, particularly in respect of LTRCs is multifactorial and its introduction into any setting could be the result of a number of factors.
As a new disease, health authorities across the world are learning about COVID-19 and adapting as new evidence and understanding is formed. The HSE in line with all health authorities continuously reviews emerging evidence and guidance. This is evident from the significant package of guidance that has been produced and has continued to be developed and updated in line with new national and international evidence and data, including advice and guidance in relation to transfers to nursing homes from hospitals, and vice versa. There is an ongoing need to seek to balance measures to manage risk with the need to ensure that the people can access care in the setting that is most suited to their needs and that the burden of restrictions on people who need care in nursing homes is not more onerous than is necessary. Public health experts advise that the key to protecting patients and staff from infection in nursing home settings is to follow the whole package of infection prevention and control guidance including hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene and regular cleaning. Additional protective measures have included visitor restrictions and resident isolation as appropriate. Keeping disease transmission low in the community reduces the potential for disease transmission into and within nursing homes.
The independent COVID-19 Nursing Homes Expert Panel Report published on 18 August 2020, examined a range of issues and key learnings arising from the pandemic up to the point of publication of the report. The Panel identified a significant package of recommendations required to support the ongoing response to COVID-19 and with regard to longer-term strategic reform of older persons service. This is consistent with the Government commitment to assess how we care for older people and examine alternatives to meet the diverse needs of our older citizens. My Department is engaged in a major programme of work to implement the Panel’s recommendations.