Galway West TD Catherine Connolly has accused the government of forgetting about nursing homes at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, and failing to put an action plan together even after there were clusters of cases.
Speaking at the Dáil sitting last Thursday, Deputy Connolly asked why nursing homes were not at the top of the government’s priority list from “day one” of this crisis.
“On one level, this virus knows no bounds but, on another, there has been no equality in the way people have been treated.”
When this pandemic was declared on March 11, the WHO commented on the delay in taking action by various governments, the Independent TD added.
“That was on 11 March. On 17 March, the Taoiseach travelled to the US. Less than five days later, there were four clusters in nursing homes but there was no action plan.”
“On 24 March, there were clusters in nursing homes but there was no action plan. On 27 March, there were clusters in nursing homes but there was no action plan.”
Deputy Connolly spoke of her “horror and upset” at being informed by an expert from Trinity College that the situation in nursing homes “crept up on us”, saying that it seems they were “utterly forgotten” in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The real danger is that of losing the ability to feel upset at the level of deaths in nursing homes and residential centres, not to mention direct provision.”
Responding to Deputy Connolly, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that protecting vulnerable groups was one of six fronts in combating this pandemic, all of which had to be tackled together.
The others included sourcing PPE, testing and tracing, ICU capacity, social distancing and lockdown restrictions, and economic and welfare supports.
“I never attended a meeting where anyone ever said we should prioritise nursing homes over PPE or testing over social distancing, for example. That is not how it works.”
“There are six fronts with six battles and we are trying to fight on every front every day in order to give each one equal attention and as much attention as possible.”
The Taoiseach added that it would be a “misunderstanding” to say that any one issue is being put above the other.
He also highlighted an agreement with unions allowing HSE staff to work at nursing homes on a voluntary basis.
The HSE has designated 75 residential facilities as ‘Status Red’, meaning they are at the greatest risk due to challenges such as staffing issues, and require the most support.