HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has today announced the establishment of a Covid-19 nursing home expert panel.
The establishment of the panel follows a recent National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) recommendation.
The panel will examine the national and international measures in response to Covid-19, as well as all emerging best practice to ensure all virus response measures are prepared for.
This is in light of the expected ongoing Covid-19 risk and impact for nursing homes over the next six to 18 months, the Department said in a statement today.
The panel will report to Harris by the end of June.
“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,” Harris said.
“We must continue to plan appropriately to meet the ongoing challenges of Covid-19 into the foreseeable future,” he said.
“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 man people who call nursing homes their home.”
The high-level expert panel will be chaired by Professor Cecily Kelleher, Principal of the College of Health and Agriculture Sciences at UCD.
Professor Kelleher will be joined by Professor Cillian Twomey (retired geriatrician), Petrina Donnelly, group director of nursing at RCSI Hospital Group, and Bridget Doherty, representing the public interest.
“I want to sincerely thank the experts for their willingness to undertake this important task and I look forward to working closely with them in the weeks ahead,” Harris said.
It is expected that the expert panel will commence its scoping work early next week.
Earlier this week, health officials said there is “no single reason” for the high level of infection in nursing homes, but they are considering the various ways it may have entered and spread throughout these settings.
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When asked about the issue at Tuesday’s Department of Health briefing, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said “the reality is any form of movement of people in and out of any setting increases the risk of transmission of this infection”.
“And if there’s movement of individuals in and out of nursing homes and longterm residential care facilities happening, that can increase the risk of transmission.”
He has previously stressed that officials do not believe, based on the data, that visitors brought this disease into nursing homes.
Holohan said he wanted to “stay away from” attaching any blame to anyone in relation to the introduction of Covid-19 into nursing homes.
“Clearly staff have to go in and out of work in these settings and nursing homes are places that have to be visited by other categories of workers who move in and out and so on.
“So it’s impossible to attach blame to that, that’s vital activity for the operation of residential nursing home facilities. And they’re amongst the means through which the highly transmissible infection gets around the community, it gets around through the movement of people.”
With reporting by Christina Finn