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Tóibín asks if money was 'dangled' before nursing homes

Peadar Tóibín was speaking during the Nursing Homes Supports Amendment Bill

By Ailbhe Conneely - Social Affairs & Religion Correspondent

Nursing homes needed to have "the ability to care for patients coming from an acute hospital setting" according to an email sent to them by the National Treatment Purchase Fund in March last year.

The correspondence has been released to the Aontú party under Freedom of Information.

Party leader Peadar Tóibín questioned if the Department of Health instructed the NTPF to "dangle money in front of nursing homes and instruct them to make way for a large surge in hospital transfers".

He was speaking during the Nursing Homes Supports Amendment Bill.

The Ceann Comhairle, Seán O'Fearghaíl, interjected, telling Deputy Tóibín his contribution did not relate to the amendments of the bill in question.

The email to nursing homes by the NTPF, seen by RTÉ News, is dated 12 March, 2020 and seeks to establish capacity "to admit such residents into your home".

It says further instruction and discussion on terms and conditions would follow "as directed by the Department of Health and the HSE".

It also notes that the email does not constitute a contract or promise of residents from the NTPF, the HSE or the Department of Health.

On the day the email was sent, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre had been informed of 27 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 70.

At that stage there was one confirmed coronavirus-related death.

The date of 12 March was also when Ireland moved from "containment" to a "delay" phase, to stop the health service being overwhelmed by a huge number of cases at once.

During spring, the number of Covid-related deaths in nursing homes rose significantly.

In May, the then Minister for Health Simon Harris announced the establishment of a Covid-19 Nursing Home Expert Panel to examine "emerging best practice to ensure all Covid response measures are prepared for".

The Expert Panel found that 10,710 individuals were discharged to nursing or convalescence homes, or long-stay accommodation between December 2019 and June 2020.

401 were documented as being confirmed with Covid-19. However, the Expert Panel pointed out this did not mean they were confirmed as having Covid-19 at the time of their discharge.

It said patients were noted as having Covid-19 at some point during their hospital stay.

In September 2020, the Special Oireachtas Committee on Covid-19 Response asked members of the Covid-19 Expert Panel on Nursing Homes if it found there was "a policy" of discharging patients into nursing homes.

Rather than calling it a policy, Professor Cillian Twomey said there was "a reality of an urgent requirement" to make acute bed capacity available.

Professor Twomey told the Committee that patients were transferred to care facilities based on the requirement to create capacity adding, "that all happened in February".

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health, David Cullinane, has proposed a public inquiry into nursing home neglect and deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the lead profession in adult safeguarding, the Irish Association of Social Workers has supported the proposal.

It's Chairperson Vivian Geiran said the IASW repeatedly advised Government that social workers could not adequately support or protect nursing home residents who experience infringements of their rights, abuse or neglect in our current system.

The association said while many nursing homes provide high standards of care, it is not universal.

The IASW said a fully transparent public inquiry would address the concerns of surviving residents and their families about the quality of care provided, particularly during the pandemic and would also examine high mortality rates.

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