Representatives from the Health Service Executive and the Department for Health have defended their positions on the actions taken for nursing homes and their residents during the Covid-19 pandemic.

They were answering questions from TDs at the eighth meeting of the Dáil's Special Committee on Covid-19 Response.

In his opening statement, Secretary General at the Department for Health Jim Breslin told TDs almost one fifth of residents of nursing homes have had a confirmed diagnosis of Covid-19 -18% of the 30,000 residents of nursing homes. 

He said it was due to the enormous efforts of staff in nursing homes throughout the period that 56% of all nursing homes have remained virus free, and the great majority of residents never contracted the virus.

Ireland recorded its first case of Covid-19 on 29 February. The first case in a nursing home was recorded on 16 March.

He refuted a suggestion from Sinn Féin's Louise O'Reilly that there was no plan to protect nursing home residents due to so many of them being sent there from acute hospital settings in the month of March.

Mr Breslin said there was engagement during that time and that nursing homes were not discriminated against 

In response to Fianna Fáil TD Mary Butler, who asked whether lessons had been learned and if they regretted sending residents back to nursing homes from hospitals, Chief Executive of the HSE Paul Reid referred to the World Health Organization's Dr David Nabarro, who said he could not think of anything Ireland could have done more to protect citizens and older people.

Mr Reid went on to say he was "wide open to learning" and that "in the future I have no doubt the HSE's approach will change and that's part of the learning".

Mr Reid also told the committee change is needed in how older people are cared for in nursing homes. 

He told TDs the HSE did not have the opportunity for a "dress rehearsal" to plan for and manage this crisis.

Mr Reid said it is "clear that there is a requirement for very significant changes in relation to the models
of care that are used in this country to care for our most vulnerable older people". 

He said those changes require a "concerted effort" across policy makers, regulators, providers and clinical experts to achieve a safe and sustainable model of care into the future. 

He said a funding model for long-term care and alternatives to long-term care is needed and that the overall governance arrangements for private nursing Homes need to be assessed.


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Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd suggested there needs to be a national day of mourning to remember all the people who have died from Covid-19, which is currently 1,714.

Meanwhile, the National Public Health Emergency Team is meeting to review the situation and trends.

It is expected to finalise a reshaping of the road map to reopen society and business, by merging the final three phases into two.

Its recommendations from today's meeting are expected to be discussed by Cabinet tomorrow.

For Covid-19, the World Health Organization says that data to date suggests that 80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15% are severe infection, requiring oxygen and 5% are critical, requiring ventilation.

Additional reporting Fergal Bowers