Restrictions on nursing home visits to be eased before Christmas

Dr Colm Henry said compassionate grounds for nursing home visits extended beyond end of life care.
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James Ward and Michelle Devane, PA

Exceptions to the coronavirus restrictions on visiting loved ones in nursing homes may be introduced ahead of Christmas.

The HSE is currently meeting with stakeholders to discuss the issue and hope to deliver updated guidelines next week.

Dr Colm Henry, of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), said that “regardless of the level” of restrictions, they would find a way to facilitate Christmas visits.

He told an HSE briefing on Thursday: “It’s clear now the impact this is having on a particularly vulnerable population, for whom visits from loved ones and family members, that’s the most important part of their lives.

“And from which they might suffer a great deal in its absence. So, this has been discussed, we’re looking at ways … there is a provision if you look at the guidelines of exceptions made for compassionate reasons.”



He said an interpretation of those guidelines is currently being looked at. Dr Henry believes it can be achieved safely.

He said: “Now we have improved awareness, improved infection control measures thanks to all those teams working throughout nursing homes, I think it is timely for us to look at that compassionate provision for level three to level five.

“So that, for Christmas, regardless of the level, that we find some way to facilitate visitors to older people in nursing home settings.”

Professor Martin Cormican, the HSE’s clinical lead for antimicrobial resistance and infection control, said exceptions can still be made under the current guidelines.

He said: “Even as the guidance exists now, sometimes people think compassionate means for people who are approaching the end of life.

“But actually we’ve defined compassionate on critical grounds in the guidance and it’s much broader than that.

“Compassionate would also cover situations where a person is experiencing significant psychological distress due to isolation.

“It takes account of the needs of a person as a whole. It’s not just about end of life. We’re looking at how we might clarify that, particularly around needs in relation to Christmas.”

HSE CEO Paul Reid has noted the “very sad milestone” of more than 2,000 Covid-19 related deaths passed this week.

He said: “It’s a very sad reminder to us all of the toll the virus has taken on many families, many communities across our island.

“As we always need to remind ourselves as we’re focused on data and statistics and trends, these are all real people, real families who have lost loved ones.”

He also urged people to remain vigilant amid concerns that the downward trajectory of the virus has stalled in recent days.

“I’d like to encourage everybody, encourage the public, to sustain the pace for the next phase. It’s important to recognise what has been achieved to date,” he said.

The HSE is to send a booklet to every home in the country, providing advice on staying safe during the winter.

Halloween celebrations have been blamed for the stall in progress being made in reducing Covid-19 cases in Ireland, an infectious disease expert said.

Professor Sam McConkey said the increased rate of infection levels in the past week appeared to be linked to people partying over the Halloween period.

He also said that there were 100 outbreaks a day at present and that unless Ireland returned to very low levels it was hard to see indoor dining and wet pubs reopening.



Members of Nphet were meeting on Thursday to discuss the country’s exit from Level 5 restrictions.

The six-week lockdown is due to end on December 1.

“There’s some suggestion over Halloween there was essentially more socialising and partying than we had before,” Prof McConkey told RTE’s Morning Ireland programme.

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“The optimist in me hopes that things will improve next week and the week after because we’re now back to normal life.

“The numbers may go down to half, maybe 100 to 200 cases a day by the beginning of December.

“The challenge will be keeping it there, keeping it down. That’s a really important challenge. None of us wants that oscillating up and down.”

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