The family of a woman who died at St Mary's Hospital nursing home in Dublin after contracting Covid-19 has called for a full statutory inquiry to examine the numbers of deaths in long-term residential settings.

It comes as the Health Service Executive confirmed a review is under way in relation to a protected disclosure at the facility.

This afternoon, Minister for Health Simon Harris announced that a Covid-19 nursing home expert panel is to be established. 

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Harris said the panel will be established to ensure the best safeguards are in place to protect people living in nursing homes. 

He said it will consist of four members, including a public health expert, a geriatrician, a senior nurse and a public interest representative. 

The minister said he would expect the group to do its work by the end of June.

He added that it is critical to examine how things have evolved in nursing homes and consider other international experience.

Deaths in residential care facilities represent over 60% of all Covid-19 related deaths in Ireland.

The niece of 84-year-old Rose Hegarty, who died at St Mary's Hospital, has welcomed the announcement. However, Jane Carrigan said she believes that a full statutory inquiry might be able to answer more questions and give residents of such facilities and their families a voice.

Rose Hegarty's case is one of 24 Covid-19 related deaths at the facility.

There have been more than 840 such deaths recorded of residents in nursing homes.

Before today's announcement, Ms Carrigan had questioned if more could have been done to protect people in residential settings.

The HSE, which runs St Mary's Hospital, has said it has commissioned a review in relation to the protected disclosure relating to St Mary's. 

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In a statement, it said the review is independently chaired and will be conducted in line with the provisions of the Protected Disclosure Act.

The HSE said that the review will start this week.

The body that regulates nursing homes, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), said it was advised of serious concerns regarding health and safety of residents at St Mary's.

It said it became aware that the HSE was conducting an investigation and HIQA's Chief Inspector has requested a copy of the report.

"The outcome of any review by the HSE will inform HIQA's regulatory response and it would not be appropriate for us to comment further until we see the HSE review," HIQA said in a statement.


Read more: Latest coronavirus stories
21 deaths at Dublin nursing home since start of April


Additional reporting Aisling Kenny