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Covid-19 Pandemic

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 3 November 2020

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Questions (1368)

Róisín Shortall


1368. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to differing implementation of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre’s Covid-19 guidance on visitations in long-term residential care facilities (details supplied); the way in which he plans to address varying adherence to the guidelines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33406/20]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

In a broader sense, visits to nursing homes are governed by legislation under the Health Act 2007 (Care and Welfare of Residents in Designated Centres for Older People) Regulations 2013

Regulation 11 provides that:

(1) The registered provider shall make arrangements for a resident to receive visitors.

(2) The person in charge shall ensure that—

(a) in so far as is reasonably practicable, visits to a resident are not restricted, unless—

(i) such a visit would, in the opinion of the person in charge, pose a risk to the resident concerned or to another resident, or

(ii) the resident concerned has requested the restriction of visits.

(b) having regard to the number of residents and needs of each resident, suitable communal facilities are available for a resident to receive a visitor, and, in so far as is practicable, a suitable private area, which is not the resident’s room, is available to a resident to receive a visitor if required.

It is the legal responsibility of each provider to assess the risk associated with visits whilst having regard to the legislation. It is therefore a matter for each provider to consider the risks and mitigation measures associated with their service. Public health guidance has been developed in order to assist and support providers in this regard.

On the 1 October the Health Protection Surveillance Centre’s (HPSC) new COVID-19 Guidance on visitations to Long Term Residential Care Facilities was published. The revised guidance followed a substantial review process.

This guidance aligns with the 5 level framework of restrictive measures as outlined in the Government’s Living with COVID-19 Plan, to support long-term residential care providers in the discharge of their responsibilities and to support in the safe visiting, to the greatest extent possible, having regard for the challenging times in which we are living.

The new guidance provides a clear and open framework for visiting. It provides guidance on the measures required to be adopted by nursing homes and by visitors to mitigate risks associated with visiting. It also re-emphasises that in circumstances where visiting may need to be restricted or suspended in nursing homes for the protection of residents and staff, alternative arrangements such as “window visiting” is acceptable across all 5 levels of the framework of restrictive measures, providing a nursing home can safely facilitate them, and that arrangements should be in place to support virtual visiting (telephone or video-link) to the greatest extent possible.

As I have previously publicly stated, I encourage all nursing homes to remain familiar with the latest public health advice and support, and to make every effort to continue to facilitate visitors in line with public health advice. While many nursing homes have shown great, innovative practice throughout the pandemic, I continue to urge all nursing homes to have plans in place for innovative, safe alternative visiting and communication arrangements for residents and their families and friends, during periods of enhanced protective measures. The importance of continued social interaction of residents and their families cannot be understated and every effort should be made, in line with public health advice, to ensure that these interactions continue, including through window visits.

On 22 September I wrote to all nursing home providers with regard to the COVID-19 Nursing Homes Expert Panel’s recommendations, with a particular focus on communication, both in terms of the ongoing situation and visiting protocols.

Officials in my Department have also written separately to the national representative body for nursing homes, encouraging providers to maintain familiarity with the latest public health advice and support, to make every effort to continue to facilitate and ensure that nursing home residents receive visitors in critical and compassionate circumstances, in line with public health advice, and to communicate with family and friends on an ongoing basis in order to support positive mental health and well-being. These measures are in place to safeguard the health of residents in these facilities, and also the health of those staff that provide care and support to residents.

Current guidance and the recommendations of the Expert Panel report seek to enhance standardisation and consistency in service delivery, including in areas such as visiting and communication.

Question No. 1369 answered with Question No. 1166.