A census of mortality across all long-term residential care facilities, that covers all deaths from Covid-19 and all non-Covid-19 deaths since 1 January, began last night.

It is part of a number of measures to try to control the spread of Covid-19 in nursing homes, which have been particularly badly hit by the virus.  

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) also intends to test all staff and residents in residential facilities for the virus over the next seven to ten days.  This will happen before the case definition for testing for Covid-19 is broadened out to allow more people in the general community to be tested. 

The body responsible for registering, monitoring and inspecting nursing homes, HIQA,  will also publish a regulatory framework this week that nursing homes must adhere to.  

Further details will be discussed at a meeting of the NPHET on Tuesday.

It is understood HIQA inspectors will be assessing how prepared the provider and the nursing home is in the event of an outbreak of Covid 19, knowledge of the resources available to support residents and staff in preparing for and managing an outbreak, the links made to access specialist clinical advice, and the systems in place, to ensure the nursing home is a safe place for residents.

It is understood inspectors will observe social distancing and good hand hygiene during the inspections and that they will be monitored for signs of illness, including a raised temperature before they enter a nursing home. 

All registered providers of nursing home care will have to assess their own service, including their capacity to respond to an outbreak while maintaining the care and welfare of all residents, identify deficits in their contingency plans and take action to remedy these deficits.  They will also have to assess the sustainability of providing quality care to residents if there is an outbreak.  Their assessments will be validated by inspectors. 

Earlier, Nursing Homes Ireland CEO Tadhg Daly has said he is concerned over a memo issued by the HSE in one region, which he said orders Personal Protection Equipment to be rationed to infected nursing homes. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Saturday with Cormac Ó hEadhra, he said the memo said orders will be based on the number of confirmed, positive or suspected cases in a nursing home.

He said: "Clearly this is basically a rationing of PPE which is not appropriate and I have been on your programme and others talking about the need to put all necessary measures in place to ensure the remaining 70% that are currently Covid free are supplied with all necessary PPE."

Mr Daly also said the issue of PPE is critical and he said there needs to be a joined-up system to ensure the safety of residents in nursing homes.

He said the memo flies in the face of commitments that have been made and contradicts what Minister Simon Harris said previously. 

Mr Daly said there was no consistency in the quality and quantity of PPE and he said the commitments need to be delivered on a consistent basis. 

In relation to the financial aid package for nursing homes, he said he was concerned about the lack of consultation with the sector. 

Mr Daly said he spoke to Mr Harris yesterday and left on the understanding there would be further consultation.

However, he said the scheme had been launched last night anyway. 

Mr Daly said this showed a lack of respect for the sector which he said would not be tolerated. 

He said up to 5,000 residents in nursing homes who are not funded under fair deal would not be covered by the scheme. 

He said it was unacceptable and was a discriminatory practice.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he has spoken to the HSE which is distributing over one million pieces of PPE to nursing homes across the board. 

He said huge progress has been made in relation to PPE and there are more flights on the way from China with more PPE. 

Minister Harris said all nursing homes that need access to PPE are able to access it.

He said he had not seen the memo and he said there was "obviously" clinical decisions being made in relation to the use of PPE.

Mr Harris said the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) was publishing a checklist and inspections would start in nursing homes.

He said inspectors would be calling to nursing homes to ensure they are adhering to the guidelines. 

Minister Harris said nursing home owners were working hard across the country and needed to be able to draw down the €72 million support package for nursing homes. He said the scheme was being restricted to Fair Deal nursing homes only.

Minister Harris said he did not want to delay in opening the scheme so it can be drawn down for supports for nursing home residents.

He said he would engage further with Nursing Homes Ireland and that he would like to find a way forward for the 5,000 residents who have been left out of the scheme.

"We want to get into nursing homes starting next week, not for nursing homes, but so nursing homes can do what they are trying really hard to do which is put in place further safeguards for residents."

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said the issues around nursing homes and Personal Protection Equipment had been raised for a number of weeks.

He said that nursing homes were not prioritised by the Government in the beginning because they were prioritising elsewhere. 

Mr Ó Broin also said nursing homes were not the only congregated setting that were not getting adequate supplies of PPE.

Additional reporting by Aisling Kenny