That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for a public inquiry into the management, in connection with nursing homes, of the risks to human life and health posed by Covid-19; and to provide for related matters.
On behalf of Aontú I am very glad to be able to introduce this Bill today in respect of the commission of investigation into the handling of Covid-19 in nursing homes. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle herself and Deputy Canney for co-signing the Bill.
We know that more than 2,500 people died of Covid-19 in nursing homes since the start of the Covid crisis. We also know that the majority of people who died in this State caught Covid either in a nursing home or in a hospital. That is an incredible thing. It means people under the protection of institutions either owned or regulated by the State were the most vulnerable in this crisis and the most exposed in what happened. I cannot think of another occasion in this history of the State when so many people died in an institution in such a short time.
I also believe very serious mistakes were made when it came to the management of nursing homes during the Covid crisis. For example, on 10 March 2020, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tony Holohan, said that restrictions around visitation in nursing homes were not necessary. This had the effect of an instruction to nursing homes to reopen their doors. Another issue was brought to light by Deputy Donnelly, who was as Opposition Deputy at the time. He said the HSE intercepted supplies of oxygen and staff that were designated for nursing homes. A large bundle of documents has been released to Aontú under freedom of information. They reveal how Paul Reid did not reply to the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, for a full month when she raised concerns around a staffing crisis in nursing homes. The documents from the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, also show there was a concerted and large-scale discharge of patients from hospitals into nursing homes at the start of the pandemic. The HSE cannot confirm to me whether these patients were tested for Covid before they were transferred. We see in correspondence between the Minister and the CEO of HIQA that some of the outbreaks in nursing homes can be linked to hospital transfers. When he was Minister for Health, Deputy Harris repeatedly ignored requests for meetings by the CEO of Nursing Homes Ireland, Mr. Tadhg Daly. Nursing homes were going on social media pleading for help with staff.
I also want to raise the case of the whistleblower from St. Mary's facility in the Phoenix Park. That individual made a protected disclosure, an investigation was triggered, a report was generated by a consulting company on behalf of the HSE and the report is written. However, the HSE has instructed that company not to disclose the report to the whistleblower. Given that the whistleblower has gone to serious personal cost to herself to expose the issues that triggered the investigation, I do not understand why a third party cannot see the report.
If passed, this Aontú Bill would ensure these issues would be examined properly by the commission. It would ensure we look at every single thing that has happened around those tragic losses of life in nursing homes in this State. It would focus on the decision-making process. It would also include all the decision makers. It would be done to find out what went wrong in those situations. Most importantly, it would be done to make sure those mistakes never happen again. The problem I have is that, right up until October 2021, six months ago, we were seeing the same mistakes in the fourth wave of Covid being repeated again in those nursing homes. The serious lessons that happened were not learned by the Government.
The Government has proposed its own look back and analysis on this situation. It does not do it in the form of a commission of investigation. No structure seems to have been developed in respect of this. The Government has also excluded many of the key decision makers from being looked back on in this investigation. The Chief Medical Officer, for example, and the head of the HSE are not to be included in the Government's look back. I believe this is a really serious issue and everybody who makes decisions must be investigated and their decisions understood. The families of those who died in nursing homes deserve answers. They deserve complete transparency. They are not getting it at the moment. If we proceed with the Government's plan, that transparency will never happen. I urge all parties in this Chamber to support the Bill and make sure it has a speedy transit through the Dáil so that those families, those victims and survivors, can get to the truth.