“Thousands of Patients Transferred from Hospitals to Nursing Homes During Pandemic” – Tóibín
Minister for State Hildegard Naughten has confirmed in the Dáil that in the months of March and April 2020 there was a surge in the number of patients transferred from hospitals to nursing homes.
Speaking in the Dáil today, Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD said a number of documents have been released to him under the Freedom of Information Act in relation to the matter. He said:
“Yesterday a document was released to me under the Freedom of Information Act from the National Treatment Purchase Fund. The document which was released to me is an email which was issued to nursing homes by the contract manager of the NTPF to nursing homes shortly before 10am on the 12th March 2020. I have already furnished the Minister for State with a copy of this email. The email states and I quote, "the NPTF have been asked to establish capacity within the nursing home sector". It goes on to say that, I quote "nursing homes will need to have the ability to care for patients coming from the acute hospital setting" and "facilities must be able to facilitate short term residents being discharged from the acute hospital".
"Residents may be nominated by the HSE or the Department of Health as applicable for receipt of appropriate funding". Describing what will happen, the letter says "the individual facility will coordinate directly with the discharge unit within the hospital". Minister, this is a damning document. In many ways it’s the smoking gun.
Deputy Tóibín continued: “We know that the Covid-19 Nursing Homes Expert Panel found that more than 10,000 patients were discharged from hospitals into nursing homes in the first six months of 2020. Was this a government to move elderly patients wholesale out of hospital beds and cram them into nursing homes? The major question here is who instructed the NTPF to issue this email? The email says they were asked to establish capacity - who asked them? There would be a pot of money. How much was offered to get older people out of hospital?”
“The context here is pivotal in this discussion - in early March nursing homes voluntarily closed their doors to visitors in an attempt to protect their vulnerable residents. On the 10th March Dr Holohan, the CMO, issued a statement saying that such restrictions were, I quote, 'not necessary'. What this document shows is that two days after telling nursing homes to reopen their doors, an email issued to nursing homes instructing them to make way for a large influx of patients from hospitals”, added Tóibín.
“Further FOI documents released reveal that throughout all this, the Health Minister, Simon Harris, was repeatedly ignoring requests for meetings from the CEO of Nursing Homes Ireland, Tadhg Daly. The opposition Health spokesperson at the time, Stephen Donnelly - revealed that the HSE had, I quote 'intercepted' supplies of oxygen, PPE and staff which were meant for nursing homes. Was there a concerted effort by the government or HSE to take old people out of safety of hospitals and cram them into nursing homes during the pandemic? How could this decision be made when the Minister was ignoring the sector, when Nursing Homes were having their PPE, Oxygen and staff taken from them by the HSE and when the CMO was telling nursing Homes to keep their doors wide open to the public.
“I understand we've had a change of government since this. But I feel it important now that the previous government and Ministers answer questions on this matter. Minister Simon Harris needs to clarify whether or not he knew about this letter. Whether or not it was his decision to send the letter. Further FOI documents released to us show that on 19th October 2020, Minister for Older Persons and Mental Health, Mary Butler wrote to the CEO of the HSE Paul Reid, seeking assurances that the HSE would continue to provide staffing supports to nursing homes. Paul Reid didn't respond to Minister Butler for a FULL MONTH! When he did respond he said that all was well - the HSE would continue to provide the nursing staffing supports to nursing homes”.
“On the 16th October 2020 he said the same thing in a letter to Phelim Quinn, the CEO of HIQA - writing, I quote "I am disappointed that you state that certain private nursing homes are not reporting good support from the HSE". During that time period, while Mr Reid was telling both HIQA and the Minister that all was well while I had nursing homes on the phone to me literally crying for staff supports. I'm thinking specifically of the case in Galway - which occurred almost exactly at the same time that these letters were issued, where the whole nursing home, bar two staff, tested positive, and were left without any support - resulting in the two negative staff members being unable to leave the nursing home as there were no replacement staff.
The headlines of the newspapers screamed staff shortages in Nursing Homes and Hospitals while the 75,000 people who applied for the ”Be on call for Ireland’ were left pretty much untouched. When will this be investigated, when will there be accountability, When can we be sure that this wont happen again?”, concluded Tóibín.
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NB see attached document released to Aontú under the Freedom of Information Act.