Minister Donnelly must ‘correct statement’ about Covid outbreak at Galway nursing home

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Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD has called on the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly to correct a statement he made about a Covid-19 outbreak in a nursing home in Galway in October.

Deputy Tóibín said that Aontú has obtained a number of documents under the Freedom of Information Act from the HSE regarding nursing homes which “paint a bleak picture of communication standards” within the HSE.

On 22 October, the Claire Byrne Show reported that the majority of staff and residents at a nursing home in Galway had tested positive for Covid-19 and had been left without any assistance from the HSE.

Deputy Tóibín raised the matter in the Dáil that same day to see if the government could ensure that this nursing home was offered assistance.

“In the middle of my contribution Minister Donnelly turned around and accused me of telling lies – “that’s a flat out lie” were his exact words,” said the Aontú TD.

“This statement from the Minister did not just call into question the credibility of me, but also the integrity of the doctor who raised the concerns and the researchers and producers of the Claire Byrne Show.

“Under Freedom of Information I’ve now gotten my hands on an email which was sent to Minister Donnelly shortly before that particular Dáil debate.

“This email was from the office of the CEO of the HSE – Paul Reid – and it says; ‘the HSE has been trying to source staff to support the nursing home since Monday… despite contacting all agencies yesterday the HSE has been unable to source any agency nursing staff’.

“Given that the Minister received this email from the HSE in the early afternoon of the 22nd October, I am asking that he now make a statement before the Dáil and withdraw his remarks which questioned the veracity of this story.”

Peadar Tóibín TD said that there are ‘serious questions’ to be asked when we look at these documents – as ‘there seems to be a massive breakdown of communication in the HSE’ when it comes to nursing homes.

“The first case of Covid 19 was detected in the Nightingale Nursing Home in Galway on 19th October. Over the ensuing days two staff members were left looking after all the residents and begged the HSE to help.

“When the Claire Byrne Show broke the story, when I raised it in the Dáil and the local GP began to tweet about it, only then did the hierarchy within the HSE become aware of the issue, some four days later.

“They began frantically sending links to the GP’s tweets among themselves. In one email Dr Daly in Ballygar is referenced, and an official in the HSE says ‘I think that’s in Galway’.

“An astonishing statement. If a nursing home say nearly all its patients have tested positive for this killer virus, surely the matter should have been brought straight to the top of the HSE,” he said.

Deputy Tóibin added that on 19 October, the Minister for Older Persons, Mary Butler sent an important letter to Mr Reid regarding the escalating situation in nursing homes.

“Astonishingly a full month elapsed before Mr Reid decided to write back to Minister Butler on November 16th,” said Deputy Tóibín.

“Now we’d understand if I sent a letter and didn’t get a response, but a government Minister should not be left waiting a month for a response to an urgent letter she sends to the HSE. Communication within the HSE needs serious improvement.

“It is clear that the HSE head quarters is not communicating effectively with their teams on the ground, with HIQA and even with the government. They need to urgently improve their communication channels.

“On a day of such a huge scandal in a nursing home, a grave situation, they only learned about it four days later through the opposition TDs, the media and tweets from a local doctor. Nursing homes need serious support from the HSE, and is disappointing that no lessons appear to have been learned from the first wave.”