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Care homes for religious not part of vaccine roll-out plans

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Sage Advocacy executive director Sarah Lennon

Sage Advocacy executive director Sarah Lennon

Sage Advocacy executive director Sarah Lennon

Calls have been made to include a number of unregistered congregated settings for older people that have been left out of the vaccination roll-out in nursing homes.

Care settings catering for elderly members of religious orders, where dozens of retired nuns and priests are being cared for outside the remit of the Health Information Quality Authority (Hiqa), have not been listed for vaccination.

It is understood that many of the settings, where some members are in their 80s and 90s and are cared for by privately contracted healthcare workers and nurses, had outbreaks of Covid-19 last year. Deaths occurred as a result.

The current phase of the roll-out, covering people aged over 65 who live in long-term settings, includes a list of public and private nursing homes that are Hiqa-registered providers of care.

Since 2009 all nursing homes, public or private, are registered and inspected by Hiqa. This includes a number of nursing homes operated by religious organisations.

However, Hiqa's remit does not extend to the regulation of residential centres catering for elderly members of religious orders.

Under Section 2 of the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990, premises in which the majority of persons being maintained are members of a religious order or priests of a religion are offered an exemption to registration.

It is understood that because the settings do not technically fall under the strict definition of a nursing home, they have not been included in the current list for vaccinations.

"I think given the ethics of it this should be looked at," Sarah Lennon, executive director of Sage Advocacy, a charity that represents older people, told the Herald.

"During our discussions with the HSE and the Department of Health on the vaccine allocation list we were told that it is about the preservation of life first.

"The nursing homes were identified because of that, not because they are nursing homes, because they are congregated environments with people over a certain age," she said.

"These settings with older people from religious orders would seem to tick a lot of the same boxes.

"If we are talking about preservation of life and we know that these congregated environments are the ones that offer the most risk,  then it makes sense that they are prioritised."

In response to queries, the HSE said it is "currently gathering data on unregistered congregated settings for older persons with a view to agreeing a vaccination process for them".

In July, a paper published in the Journal of Nursing Home Research, which detailed the Covid-19-related deaths of four nuns in a convent in the southwest, highlighted the plight of care homes run by religious orders during the pandemic.

The four nuns died, and 12 out of 14 in their order tested positive, as the care system "collapsed" in their home during the height of the pandemic, according to the research paper.

Unregulated

The "significant" outbreak of the disease in the residence of a religious order "highlights the need to review these unregulated homes", the authors, geriatricians from the HSE, Mercy Hospital in Cork and Clonakilty Community Hospital, said.

Religious organisations were reluctant to give access to HSE staff during the crisis as residents were cocooning in accordance with Government regulations, the paper said.


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