Dr Tony Holohan defends Ireland's response to Covid-19 in nursing homes

Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health & Chair of NPHET, at Leinster House on Kildare Street, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
By Aoife Moore

Health officials have defended Ireland's response to the Covid-19 pandemic in nursing homes in the Oireachtas.

There were testy exchanges between the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan, who appeared alongside Secretary General of the Department of Health Jim Breslin, and TDs during the first sitting of the Oireachtas special Committee on Covid-19.

The 19 TD strong committee has been formed to examine Ireland’s coronavirus response.

Dr Holohan and Mr Breslin defended Ireland's response to Covid-19 in nursing homes, reiterating that they did not believe that the outbreak of coronavirus in the sector could be attributed to conflicting advice on whether visitor's should be allowed into residential settings.

Sinn Féin's David Cullinane noted that advice from Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) was given to nursing homes on March 10 that visits should be stopped as concerns over Covid-19 rose, three days later on March 13, NPHET advised that: "Visitor restrictions are not appropriate at this time".

Dr Holohan rejected Mr Cullinane's summary, saying that his advice had been misunderstood or taken out of context: "That's not correct, and I have been quoted as having said that, and if you check our press release in relation to that time, we said the visitor restrictions in respect of nursing homes are not appropriate at this moment in time, which is a totally different thing to what has been interpreted by many people are saying."

There has since been over 200 clusters of the virus in the sector, with NHI, a representative group, reporting that they had continually flagged concerns over PPE and had asked for specific advice for the sector on dealing with the crises and that these calls had not been met with action.

"There was a broader piece of advice that related not only to nursing homes, but a range of different actions happening over the course of that week," Dr Holohan said.

We had a substantial concern that there was a lot of unilateral action taking place over the course of that week.

"A lot of organisations taking their own decisions not informed by our advice and our concern was to try and ensure that we had all of the organisations, operating in step with our advice that ultimately was what happened.

"What we did on the 12th of March was to make a series of different pieces of advice around school closures around a range of measures across society which included a recommendation that visitors to nursing homes and healthcare facilities would cease.

"It was a change in our assessment of the disease.

"Up to that point we didn't think we shouldn't introduce such arrangements."