Calls have been made for greater oversight of nursing homes, where 2,000 people died during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many nursing homes are well run and staffed by dedicated professionals. However, a significant number are not fully compliant with national standards.

The campaign group Care Champions said it was contacted during the pandemic by over 500 families with concerns about their loved ones in nursing homes.

"Services are just so poor in a number of nursing homes," campaign founder Majella Beattie told RTÉ Investigates. "There needs to be a huge overhaul of the system of oversight."

The families communicate via a Facebook page that has 5,000 followers.

"We help people write letters to nursing homes regarding rights, communication and medical issues," Ms Beattie said.

"We also help them raise issues through the complaints procedure with the regulator."


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However, health watchdog HIQA is powerless to investigate individual complaints. It can only carry out general inspections based on concerns it receives. HIQA has pointed this out to successive governments.

Concerns have also been raised about staffing levels in nursing homes.

"It is up to each individual nursing home to interpret what they deem to be their staffing levels," said Dr Sarah Donnelly, an assistant professor at the UCD School of Social Policy.

This flaw in the regulations was acknowledged by HIQA at an Oireachtas hearing last year. "There is no minimum staffing level or national staffing ratio. That is discretionary to each provider," said HIQA inspector Mary Dunnion.

While noting this gap in the regulations, Ms Dunnion said: "We have submitted to the Minister for Health a recommendation against ten specific regulations because they are pertinent to the Covid outbreak… and one of those is staffing."

Care Champions and Dr Sarah Donnelly said the impact of the pandemic on nursing homes also needs to be addressed as part of a public inquiry.

Both are concerned about the high mortality rates in nursing homes, where outbreaks of Covid-19 were linked with the deaths of 2,051 residents in nursing homes – that's two-thirds of all deaths linked to outbreaks of Covid-19.

"The relatives of some of those who died are looking for answers," said Dr Donnelly.

"We need to hear their voices, we need to hear their lived experiences, but we also need to ensure that this does not happen again."