A report released on Tuesday, august 18th, investigating the impact of COVID-19 on nursing homes, has called for “systematic reform” of how residents are cared for. The Nursing Homes Expert Panel, led by UCD Professor of Public Health Cecily Kelleher, have provided 86 recommendations over a wide range of themes.

 

A key recommendation of the report is to increase funding for the Nursing Home Support Scheme. This scheme, also known as the ‘Fair Deal’ scheme, contributes over €1 bn annually to the nursing home sector. According to the expert panel, “additional funding will be required” to help alleviate existing and future costs arising out of COVID-19, as well as ensuring nursing homes compliance with HIQA’s standards.

 

The 200-page report details several recommendations regarding staff conditions and supports. Agency staff working across various nursing homes, increasing the risk of COVID-19 being spread, has caused ongoing concern. In response to this, the expert panel has called for an 18-month ban on staff working across multiple nursing homes, proposing “adequate single site employment contacts” to achieve this.

 

The report also calls for the improvement of education standards of those working in nursing homes, recommending that staff are mandated to either “hold or be working towards a QQI level 5 qualification” within 18 months. A review of terms and conditions of employment is recommended, as well as the introduction of occupational health and psychological support for staff.

 

In addition to this, the report suggests making the influenza vaccine mandatory for all nursing home staff. The State has not considered this landmark recommendation in the past, due to concerns around its constitutionality.

 

The report also stresses the “critical” need to reform the system for ordering PPE in nursing homes. In advocating for the continuation of prioritising COVID-19 tests to nursing home residents, the panel warn that PPE and other resources should be “readily available” to residents and staff. They also advise maintaining an “emergency supply” of PPE, combined with staff receiving any necessary training, in order to better prepare in case of any outbreak.

 

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has welcomed the publication of the report, deeming it “revolutionary”. He claims he is “most certainly” committed to advocating for a greater budget for the nursing home sector. Referring to the report as “200 pages of wisdom”, he acknowledged that implementing some of the recommendations will be challenging but is hopeful that change will come “very quickly”.

 

A team has been established to prioritize the recommendations and estimate the cost of implementing them and are due to meet next week.

 

Laura Kennedy, Reporter