The importance of continued social interaction of residents and their families cannot be overstated and every effort should be made, in line with public health advice, to ensure that these interactions continue, including through window visits.
Nursing home providers are ultimately responsible for the safe care of their residents. Under Regulation 11 of the Health Act 2007 (Care and Welfare of Residents in Designated Centres for Older People) Regulations 2013 it is the legal responsibility of each registered provider to make arrangements for a resident to receive visitors, having regard to any risks that may present for the resident or other residents. Public health guidance has been developed in order to assist and support providers in this regard.
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 and to communicate with family and friends on an ongoing basis in order to support positive mental health and wellbeing. I have communicated with the sector outlining the need for them to be flexible, innovative and to facilitate to the greatest extent possible alternative arrangements such as window visiting, in line with public health advice.
I am mindful that Christmas, for many, has always been a very special time for families and loved ones to come together. I would like to assure the Deputy that we want to ensure a balanced and proportionate response to COVID-19 by finding ways to implement public health measures in response to the pandemic in a way that is fair, reasonable and proportionate. I understand that the Health Protection Surveillance Centre is currently reviewing the public health guidance on visiting, in consultation with relevant national stakeholders, to consider, in line with the range of public health factors, further potential for safe visiting within nursing homes. Visiting guidance is being considered in the context of the wider COVID-19 situation, as we plan and prepare for exiting level 5 restrictions.
Notwithstanding this, it is also important to be cognisant of the wider epidemiological situation and the risks associated with same. On the 19th November, the European Centre for Disease Control published its latest risk assessment with regard to long-term care facilities. It highlights that the probability of COVID-19 introduction into a long-term care facility depends on the level of COVID-19 circulation in the community, with a higher risk associated with higher incidence rates in the community.
This highlights the importance of supressing the level of the virus in the community as one of the primary measures for protecting nursing homes. As citizens, we all have a responsibility in this regard and our actions across all of society can directly impact the outcomes for nursing home residents.