Close to 1,600 people have died due to Covid-19 in nursing homes, with one third of these deaths taking place in the month of January.
The huge increase in the levels of infection has resulted in around 2,000 staff currently on Covid leave, adding an additional strain to the system and the quality of care residents of these homes are receiving.
Those working in the health services and residential settings are unquestionably doing their level best under extremely difficult circumstances to care for older and vulnerable people under their care.
But it must also be stated clearly that there have been repeated and inexcusable failings at the heart of government from the onset of Covid to prioritise the citizens of Ireland at greatest risk – those living in nursing homes and residential settings.
Despite repeated warnings from as far back as February 2020, the Government refused to listen and take the appropriate action at the critical moments where very many lives could have been saved.
After the dreadful experience of the first phase of Covid in 2020, impassioned pleas were repeated in the autumn of 2020 for the government to prepare for the inevitable winter wave of Covid, with particular focus on ensuring there wouldn’t be a repeat of the awful tragedy that befell nursing homes in the earlier part of the year.
In October 2020, Oireachtas members Peadar Tóibín, Rónán Mullen and others repeatedly called on the Minister for Health to give priority to preparing for the next major outbreak of Covid in nursing homes. In the Seanad, Senator Mullen personally appealed to the Taoiseach: “We were put to the test six months ago and we failed the most vulnerable. Let us not have a repeat of the same. I am making as impassioned a plea as I can to the Taoiseach and the Government to treat this issue with the urgency it deserves today, not tomorrow or in the days to come. It is the least we owe our older and most vulnerable and dependent members of the community.”
Tragically, once again, the kind of action that was needed from the government never happened. At the very same time that people like Senator Mullen were pressing for safeguards to be put in place to protect the most vulnerable, there were other members of the Oireachtas busying themselves with ensuring that Gino Kenny’s euthanasia bill passed Second Stage in the Dáil.
There is a serious problem at present in this country when it comes to the issues that get prioritised and the ones that are relegated. When we look back on this period of our history, we will have to face the betrayal and abandonment of older and vulnerable people that happened.
The Public Investigation called for this week by Peadar Tóibín regarding the Government’s disastrous mismanagement of the Covid outbreak in nursing homes is something that most definitely needs to happen. But in the days and weeks ahead, every effort needs to be made, even at this late stage, to try and save as many of our beloved friends and neighbours in nursing and residential homes throughout the country.