Nursing homes want an early warning system to alert them to localised outbreaks so they can take additional precautionary measures to prevent coronavirus spreading from clusters in the community.
The recommendation comes as the number of Covid-19 cases rises while public health measures including serial testing have managed to prevent the spread of infection in nursing homes.
There was just one new outbreak in a nursing home and eight new cases linked to nursing homes reported in the past week, bringing to 279 the number of clusters in nursing homes as of last Sunday.
Nursing Homes Ireland, the representative body for private nursing homes that make up four out of every five care homes, said an early warning system for localised outbreaks could avoid more severe restrictions.
“Rather than the blunt instrument of national restrictions, it might be better to consider a more localised approach that would not lead to visitor restrictions across the country,” said NHI chief executive Tadhg Daly.
“Visiting is a critical part of a person’s wellbeing. A move to blanket restrictions would be a very significant one.”
There were just 36 “open” Covid-19 outbreaks in nursing homes at the start of this week with most of them Covid-19 free but awaiting a mandatory 28-day period of no new cases before outbreaks can be closed, he said.
NHI recommended to the Government-appointed nursing homes expert panel that public health officials alert nursing homes when there are new Covid-19 cases in a geographical region as part an early warning system.
However, an early warning system was not among the 86 recommendations made by the expert panel in their report published on Covid-19 and nursing homes published last month.
Tim Murphy, chairman of Brookhaven, a nursing home group with five facilities across the country, said a localised warning system would “absolutely” help nursing homes in the event of a second surge in infections.
“Any little thing would definitely be a help. Everyone is still very much alert and aware of what is going on. It would just make you that little bit more aware and concerned,” he said.
Mr Murphy said his nursing home group has already taken additional measures against increased cases in Dublin to protect residents at its Talbot Lodge nursing home in Malahide by reverting to “booth-only” visiting.
He complimented the HSE and public health teams for the supports such as the supply of personal protective equipment being provided to nursing homes saying that the assistance was leaving the sector in “a very safe space”.
He said there was “rapid and repeated testing” for staff and that results were back on average within 48 hours and the sector was “much more prepared” for a second wave, he said.
“It is not easily managed but it is easier to manage than it was at the outset. We are pretty confident about the robustness of our systems. We are prepared for anything – things are on a war footing,” he said.
Cut back visits
Ann Fitzpatrick, who owns and runs St Theresa’s nursing home in Thurles, Co Tipperary, said a localised early warning system would be a “very good measure” to help manage visiting at her home.
“If we knew there was an outbreak locally, then we could act accordingly, so if there is an outbreak in Kerry, that shouldn’t necessarily affect residents and staff at our nursing home,” she said.
“If there is an increase in cases, then you can say, ‘well for this week or for next week, we are going to cut back on visiting’, so it is to the benefit of residents and staff.”
Nursing home residents accounted for more than 55 per cent of more than 1,770 coronavirus-related deaths during the pandemic in Ireland.
There have been just two Covid-19 deaths reported in the past week, down from a daily high of 77 in April.