Saturday, May 23, 2020

Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photo: The Irish Times

A Covid-19 Nursing Home Expert panel has been established by Minister for Health Simon Harris. The new body has been created on the basis of a recommendation by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and is to report to Minister Harris by the end of June.

This news came less than 24 hours after a report from the International Long Term Care Policy Network concluded that Ireland’s rate of home care deaths as a percentage of total Covid-19 deaths (62 per cent) was among the highest in the world.

The new panel is to examine national and international response measures to the pandemic in addition to “emerging best practice to ensure all Covid-19 response measures are prepared for”.

Said Minister Harris: “Throughout the response to the pandemic there has been particular focus on the challenges in the nursing home sector and it has been and remains an absolute priority for me in the overall response to Covid-19. We must continue to plan appropriately to meet the ongoing challenges of Covid-19 into the foreseeable future.”

He added: “I believe that the establishment of a Covid-19 Nursing Home Expert Panel to examine and advise on these matters is a crucial aspect of good planning to support Ireland’s navigation through the Covid-19 landscape and ensure the best possible safeguards are in place to protect the many people who call nursing homes their home.”

The panel is to be chaired by Professor Cecily Kelleher, Principal of UCD’s College of Health and Agricultural Sciences. Prof Kelleher’s fellow panel members are Prof Cillian Twomey (a retired geriatrician), Petrina Donnelly, the RCSI Hospital Group’s Director of Nursing and Bridget Doherty, who will represent the public interest. The panel’s scoping work is due to commence early next week.

In yesterday’s Irish Times, Paul Cullen noted the International Long Term Care Policy Network’s own research disclaimer, which stated that “comparisons between the 16 (researched) countries are difficult to male due to differing approaches to recording deaths”.

Of those surveyed, only Canada (on 82 per cent) had a higher proportion of home care deaths than Ireland. Ireland, Canada and France are recording “both confirmed and probably Covid-19 deaths, whereas for Sweden (49 per cent), Austria and the US (41 per cent) and Germany (37 per cent) relate only to confirmed cases”.

The report’s authors believe its work remains worthwhile in spite of different national methodologies in relation to the pandemic and could assist individual governments and health authorities in assessing the overall scale of infection and fatalities in nursing/retirement/care homes.

Without such focus, the authors stated: “This may result in allocations of scarce resources (including testing, personal protection equipment, medical personnel and medicines) that leave out the settings that are experiencing some of the biggest challenges in relation to Covid-19.”

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