An increase in the number of Covid-19 outbreaks in nursing homes because of the second wave of the Omicron variant in Ireland is creating anxiety for some residents and their loved ones, Sage Advocacy has said.
The national organisation, which supports and advocates for older people, healthcare patients and vulnerable adults, said latest HSE figures, which suggest there is in the region of 300 active Covid-19 outbreaks in nursing homes across the country, is concerning.
The second wave of the Omicron variant in Ireland has resulted in some visiting restrictions being re-introduced in nursing homes where there is currently an active outbreak of Covid-19.
Sarah Lennon, Executive Director, Sage Advocacy, said: “The priority must always be to safeguard residents and we are very conscious of the ongoing risk posed by Covid-19 to nursing home residents. We are also aware that staffing levels in nursing homes have been impacted by the more transmissible Omicron variant.
“However, we know at first hand from our advocacy work that visiting restrictions have an immediate and severe impact on nursing home residents and there must be a balance in managing the risk while respecting the rights of residents to maintain meaningful relationships with people who are important to them.
“It is important that the recommendations of the Covid-19 Nursing Homes Expert Panel and stringent infection, prevention and control measures are implemented and rigorously adhered to during this latest wave”.
Current HSE/HPSC guidance on visiting nursing homes outlines that if there is a Covid-19 outbreak in a nursing home a minimum level of visiting must be facilitated.
Each resident’s nominated support person should have ‘reasonable access’ with a resident for some part of the day during an ongoing outbreak of Covid-19.
Ms Lennon said: “The HSE/HPSC guidance states that if limits on indoor visiting are necessary in the early phase of an outbreak, then alternative forms of communications and engagements with families and others should be facilitated proactively and to the greatest extent possible.
“This can include window visits, outdoor visits, video calls etc. The HSE is very clear that any limitations on visiting required in an outbreak should be reviewed at least twice per week.
“We would urge nursing home providers to communicate clearly with residents and their loved ones on what the position is regarding a Covid-19 outbreak in a nursing home. We know from our Nursing Home Residents- Family Forum that there is a high degree of anxiety around the current high level of Covid-19 outbreaks in nursing homes across the country among residents and their families.”
Separately Sage Advocacy said it is also supporting some healthcare patients and their families who have been impacted by visiting restrictions in hospitals.
The national charity said that some hospitals have introduced restrictions or limitations on visitors because they are dealing with high levels of Covid-19 cases.
Ms Lennon said: “Many hospitals are currently only allowing visits to certain wards on compassionate grounds and have suspended non-essential visiting.
“We know from our advocacy work that when some older people must attend hospital, particularly accident and emergency departments, it can be an extremely upsetting experience for them.
“Latest figures suggest that there has been a significant number of older people, particularly in relation to those aged 75 and over, attending accident and emergency departments recently.
“While hospitals must manage the ongoing risk of Covid-19 it is also crucial that the needs of older people who have to attend or be admitted to hospital, particularly if they are vulnerable or have degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's are fully met.”