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Our vulnerable elderly have been failed yet again

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Dr Tony Holohan says the level of Covid-19 in Ireland is 'particularly fragile'. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Dr Tony Holohan says the level of Covid-19 in Ireland is 'particularly fragile'. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Dr Tony Holohan says the level of Covid-19 in Ireland is 'particularly fragile'. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Yesterday was officially Groundhog Day. The day made famous by the eponymous film where a man relives the same events over and over again.

But as sentient and emotional beings there are watersheds for tragedy we must never expect to revisit.

After almost a year of learning the most excruciating lessons in how vulnerable older people are to the coronavirus, once again we have failed them. A total of 1,543 people have died due to Covid-19 in nursing homes.

Harrowingly, 369 of those occurred last month.

There was also a fivefold increase in the number of outbreaks in nursing homes from mid-December to the end of January.

Commitments on vaccinating the elderly were not fully met. Key recommendations on how to best protect those who live in congregated settings were not implemented.

Representatives from the HSE, Department of Health and Nursing Homes Ireland were brought before the Oireachtas Committee on Health to answer questions.

We thought these questions had already been answered and that the devastating scenes witnessed last year where chronic staff shortages and a lack of PPE made life a living hell for patients and staff in nursing homes would not be repeated.

Every stage in life is supposed to be cherished. Yet once again our inability to insulate nursing homes from community transmission has exacted a heartbreaking price.

Tadhg Daly, chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI), explained: “Staffing is the predominant emergency that presents across our health service.”

Mr Daly also questioned whether a “critical window of opportunity” was missed by not initiating widespread vaccinations of nursing homes immediately after shots arrived in the country.

He said just 10pc of the initial 77,000 vaccinations administered by mid-January were within nursing homes.

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The vaccines arrived in Ireland on December 26, but the first was only given in a private or voluntary nursing home on January 7.

By January 13, 7,925 vaccinations had been given in nursing homes, while 69,378 had been given to healthcare workers.

Maximising the number of people vaccinated is our best chance to minimise spread, especially as new variants of the virus emerge.

The only way to manage effectively with elevated risks is to slow down transmission. As Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan has reminded us, the level of Covid-19 in Ireland is “particularly fragile”.

Yesterday the highest number of deaths yet was announced with 101 fatalities. Dr Holohan has saluted “the extraordinary efforts of the people of Ireland”.

And so we should.

Yet when the pandemic began we were ill-prepared and ill-equipped to take care of those not capable of independent living. What is our excuse today?

A year ago we were also told we were in a war. But wars are about maximising the efficiency of killing.

The campaign we must all enlist in is to stop the killing. Only by cutting community spread can we truly show we care for our older people.


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