The Health Information and Quality Authority has said Covid-19 has brought into sharp focus the need to review and enhance nursing home regulations.

The health watchdog told the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response that it has been highlighting deficits in the regulation since 2013.

Covid-19 had a devastating impact on nursing homes across the country with hundreds of residents dying as a result of the virus.

Appearing before the committee today, HIQA Chief Executive Officer Phelim Quinn, called for the regulations in nursing homes to be strengthened.

"The regulations as they currently stand would not have been adequate to deal with a pandemic such a Covid-19 but additionally and you are correct from as  far back as 2013 we have been highlighting deficits within the regulation," Mr Quinn said.

Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd criticised HIQA for its handling of Covid-19 outbreaks in nursing homes.

He called on the health watchdog to provide more information to families who had lost loved ones in nursing homes due to Covid-19.

"They are in a very difficult place right now and they are getting no closure and they are getting no help from HIQA. HIQA are facing their correspondence with redacted FOIs and with lack of information," Mr O'Dowd said.

Solidarity People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith demanded a public inquiry into nursing homes impacted by Covid-19.

"56% of all deaths during Covid took place in nursing homes and that setting was only 0.65% of the total living population and that is why I think that this alarming figure and the lack of pointing the finger at what has gone on means that we do need to have a public inquiry," she said.

Politicians also highlighted the impact of the pandemic on residents and their families.

Sinn Fein's Health spokesperson David Cullinane said families were frustrated by the failures in nursing homes.

"So can you understand the deep, deep frustration that many families have in relation to the inaction as some would see it and the failures in some nursing homes in relation to standards, in relation to infection control measures, in relation to PPE, in relation to all of those issues - can you understand that frustration?" he asked.

Responding, HIQA's Director of Regulation, Mary Dunnion acknowledged that the response that was needed was not immediate.

"It was an extremely difficult time I suppose we as a health and care services were like everyone else in the world learning and there is no doubt that the response that was required was not immediate," she said.

"But over the period of the first wave of Covid certainly huge structures have been put in place and we can see evidence of that now when sadly there is more evidence of outbreaks."