Health authorities should have been alerted sooner to a spate of deaths at a nursing home, a junior minister said last night.
Six people, all over the age of 80, have died at Nazareth House in Fahan, Co Donegal, in the last two weeks following an outbreak of influenza.
Kathleen Lynch, the junior minister with responsibility for the elderly, yesterday urged all nursing home operators to alert health authorities once something outside the norm occurs.
It is understood that the HSE was not informed of the difficulties at Nazareth House until last Sunday night, by which stage five people had died.
"The lesson to be learnt is, where you are dealing with vulnerable people in a private or a public nursing home, keep the Department of Health informed when anything outside the norm occurs so we can help," Ms Lynch said yesterday.
She added that she did not want to impose a penalty, but wanted to ensure that operators were assisted in the care of vulnerable people in the future.
Public health staff will be on hand over the Easter holiday to monitor the care of the residents at the home and to ensure infection control measures remain at a high standard.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said it would be under active surveillance for some time.
Concern remains for a small number of very elderly residents who are being treated for flu and other respiratory viruses.
The minister admitted that it was not certain whether early intervention would have had a different result for the victims.
The house remained closed to visitors yesterday as staff worked on containing the outbreak and treating the sick patients. A receptionist said that she did not know when it would reopen.
Meanwhile, a report from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre shows that while there was an improved uptake of the flu vaccine among older people last year, nearly 40pc of those with the medical card did not avail of the free jab.
Four of the six residents who died in Buncrana were vaccinated.
The vaccination reduces flu related hospitalisation by 50-60pc and flu related deaths by 70-80pc.
This winter's vaccine was not a complete match for the strain of flu which killed the six residents but these jabs are less effective in older people, whose defences are low.