16.04.2020 : Special Oireachtas Commmittee on Covid 19 crisis needed

A public health support committee from the Oireachtas, assisted by experts, should be convened to liaise in private session with the Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team, Independent Senator Rónán Mullen has said.

Writing in today’s Irish Independent, Senator Mullen says that issues around the management of Covid-19 in nursing homes point to the need to ask hard questions of the officials managing the crisis. He said:

“The big decisions are not behind us. Many more are ahead. And so a way must be found to challenge and assist the apparatus of State and public health management without hindering its ability to lead. Even experts, especially when they are tired, pressurised and possibly fearful, must be asked continually about whether the decisions they take continue to be the best ones.”

“Three weeks ago in the Oireachtas we agreed unanimously to give the Government emergency powers. The Government must be given its head, even if mistakes would be made – that was the consensus.”

“But in light of the horrors that have unfolded in nursing homes, that needs to be revisited,” Mullen says.

“It would help to know if a comprehensive study of staffing levels and needs in Nursing and care homes has been carried out. Is there a clear pathway to access more staffing if needed?  Have all staff in Nursing Homes been trained in the correct safe use of PPE? Are there sufficient staff and communications resources in Nursing Homes to enable communication between families and residents on a regular basis as often during the day as they need?  These and similar questions need to be addressed and we need to ensure that the level of resources available to Nursing Homes is reflective of the great value we put on the lives of those who have contributed so much to our country in the past.”

“The media must ask these questions. So also must the Oireachtas. Even before a Taoiseach is elected, an ad-hoc public health support committee, assisted by experts, should be convened to liaise in private session with the Government and NPHET.”

“Holding leaders and experts to account is not hurling in the ditch. It’s about making doubly sure that the people have the information to make rational decisions.”

In the article, Mullen deplores the shortage of information to date on what was happening in nursing homes. He said:

“Journalists have only recently started asking, and are only now being told, about the number of Covid-19 deaths in the (nursing) homes. I am not blaming the media. All of us have wondered how to behave in this war against Covid-19. Should the Minister for Health and Dr Holohan face hard questions about their decisions? Or would that weaken their ability to lead the national struggle? Must we accept that the experts are in charge and that the best possible decisions are being taken?”

Mullen writes that people would have been better positioned to take decisions about nursing home care if more information had been available sooner:

“Over a fortnight ago we learned that four patients had died in a nursing home from Covid-19. Within a few days of that, I had learned that the figure had risen to 17 deaths. All in the space of ten days. In a home that usually sees one funeral per month.”

“Responding to this, I called for hotels currently closed to offer temporary emergency accommodation to healthcare workers, nursing home staff and, critically, home-care personnel. This would prevent the spread of disease from families at home to care settings and vice-versa, and help keep much-needed staff in these homes. But though other announcements have been made, no measure on that front has been taken by Government.”

“Recently, a friend of mine travelled across the country to Dublin to get her uncle out of a nursing home. Maybe she was one of the lucky ones who could. Many elderly or sick people are far beyond the possibility of that. But people are entitled to know what their Government thinks of the idea. And then make the best decision they can.”

Ends

You can find the Irish Independent article here