Whistleblower calls for nursing homes inquiry

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A whistleblower in a Dublin nursing home where a significant number of patients have died from a coronavirus infection has made serious allegations of failings leading to the deaths of 24 clients.

The staff member, who works in the home, has claimed concerns raised by healthcare workers about the welfare of residents fell on deaf ears. She has compiled a 35-page dossier as part of a protected disclosure over the handling of the outbreak at the facility.

St Mary’s Hospital nursing home in Dublin’s Phoenix Park is one of the worst hit nursing homes in the country. It is run by the Health Service Executive, has 150 beds and a separate 48 bed step-down hospital.

Following the outbreak, all staff are now required to wear face masks, one of relatively where the masks are both available and mandatory. But that change only came about recently.

The staff member raised serious concerns over access to personal protective equipment (PPE) with senior management more than a month ago.

In an April 4th email to senior management, sent at onset of the outbreak, the staff member expressed concerns over the criteria for when healthcare workers should wear PPE, and that the process of identifying suspected coronavirus patients was “unclear”.

The email stated the worker was “gravely concerned” about the lack of gear for front-line workers, over fears staff would transmit the virus from one resident to others.

The staff member also queried the practice that protective equipment should not be worn if a patient presented with one symptom only of coronavirus.

“If someone has one symptom, and we are not using PPE, there is an obvious risk that if the person does actually have Covid-19 we as front-line workers will get Covid-19 and will be carriers, transmitting it to other residents,” she said.

The email also expressed fears that suspected coronavirus patients were being moved between wards. But the staff member said the concerns “fell on deaf ears” and they faced “alienation and disapproval” for highlighting the issues.

The protected disclosure was sent to HSE chief executive Paul Reid and Minister for Health Simon Harris. The staff member called for a statutory inquiry to be set up, or failing that an independent external inquiry.

St Mary’s it is far from the only nursing home with issues. An even more dealy outbreak has taken place in a private Louth nursing home, where more than one in three of the patients have lost their life to the disease, according to Sinn Féin Louth TD Ruairí Ó Murchú.

There have been 26 deaths at Dealgan House in Dundalk, believed to be the largest number of coronavirus-related fatalities recorded in any one nursing home in Ireland.

Mr Ó Murchú called on the Minister for Health to confirm that number of fatalities was correct. He also said there were growing calls from families and staff for an investigation into what happened.

Last month a HSE hospital group, RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) took over the home, but newly deployed staff have reportedly been withdrawn. Mr Ó Murchú said staff, residents and families are desperate for answers about the plans at Dealgan House.

He also said he had been informed that the owners of the home had been in contact with the HSE about the “worsening situation at the home”.

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