I propose to take Questions Nos. 130 and 173 together.
The Temporary Assistance Payment Scheme (TAPS) was established in April 2020 as a temporary administrative measure in response to the challenges faced by the nursing home sector at the start of the pandemic. As the pandemic continued, additional support measures for private and voluntary nursing homes have been delivered through the Health Service Executive (HSE).
As of 11th June 2021, 7,148 claims had been submitted as part of the Scheme. In total, €134.5 million has been made available under TAPS between 2020 and 2021.
Due to the ongoing high level of risk associated with COVID-19 during this period, the Department of Health responded by extending the scheme twice, far beyond the originally planned timescale of three months. The further extension of the scheme was outlined in the Government’s Plan 'Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19', published in September 2020. This provided reassurance of the Scheme’s availability and a planned timeframe of operation to the end of June 2021.
The cessation of TAPS at the end of June, as planned and previously announced was communicated with all relevant stakeholders, including Nursing Homes Ireland – the national representative body for the private and voluntary nursing home sector.
There has been a marked improvement in the status of the virus in the community and in nursing homes due to the rollout of the National Vaccination Programme – COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in nursing homes are now at a very low level compared with the first quarter of the year and, overall, the epidemiological situation is very positive. It is the Department’s understanding that currently there is one open outbreak in a nursing home.
(Please note that the cyber-attack on the HSE on 14 May 2021 has prevented the routine notification of cases, associated deaths and outbreaks of COVID-19 to the Computerised Infectious Disease Reporting (CIDR) system. As an interim measure, provisional epidemiological reports are being prepared but have not undergone the data validation procedures undertaken through CIDR. For this reason, data continues to be provisional at this time.)
The Scheme has fulfilled its temporary purpose of providing financial support to nursing homes to address COVID-19. Although the risk is greatly reduced, it has not been completely eliminated, therefore the outbreak assistance element of the Scheme will continue to be available to nursing homes until the end of 2021. Availability of outbreak assistance is subject to the overall sanctioned amount of €42m for 2021.
The substantial package of non-financial supports outlined below will continue to be provided for the time being:
- Provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The continued supply of PPE is a key support mechanism and will be provided in line with clinical and public health recommendations;
- The COVID-19 Response Teams established to support Public Health Outbreak teams covering all residential services as well as home support settings. All stakeholders, including the COVID-19 Nursing Homes Expert Panel, have highlighted the significant contribution these new teams have made to supporting nursing homes throughout the pandemic;
- The HSE Temporary Accommodation Scheme;
- HSE training and development resources, including the opening up of HSeLanD to private and voluntary providers.
- IPC support and advice;
- The substantial suite of publicly available guidance developed to support the sector.
These measures and supports reflect a significant investment by the State to support nursing homes and other services and measures, such as the COVID-19 Response Teams, and are a clear signal of the work that is ongoing to integrate the wider health system.
Nursing homes, like all other service providers, should continue to follow and apply enhanced public health advice and guidance as required in line with the pandemic risk. All nursing homes, as registered providers with HIQA, have well established obligations under the legal framework in terms of the delivery of safe care to residents. Nursing homes are required, by law, to comply with current infection, prevention and control standards - these standards have been in operation since 2018. Good and effective IPC procedures should be in place across the entire health and social care service as a matter of course
In February 2021, a revised plan 'Resilience and Recovery 2021 Plan: The Path Ahead' was published by the Government. This plan recognises the need for longer-term reform of both older persons and nursing home care, broadly reflecting the lessons learned from the COVID-19 Nursing Homes Expert Panel and the pandemic. However, these structural reforms, including the policy and regulatory framework, extend beyond the scope of a temporary financial support scheme aimed at a specific, time-limited public health objective.