Ireland's nursing home sector has said that it is disappointed that the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has not yet met with it "despite numerous request" in recent weeks.
Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) has said that it has now requested an urgent meeting with Minister Harris to discuss the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis.
Voluntary and private nursing homes currently provide care to around 25,000 vulnerable people, while a further 5,000 people are cared for in HSE homes.
NHI said that it has made numerous representations to Minister Harris, his party colleagues and senior Department of Health officials to arrange a meeting with the Minister to discuss the challenges facing nursing homes, however "no meeting has been forthcoming".
"Specific guidance is needed as to what nursing homes should do in the crisis. It is sadly inevitable that nursing homes will experience severe staff shortages at the very time that staff are needed most to care for residents.
"We respectfully but urgently ask the HSE to give specific guidance to nursing homes on how they should manage in the crisis and the support necessary from the Government and National Public Health Emergency Team," it said.
NHI chief executive, Tadhg Daly, described it as "astonishing that we are now well into a health crisis of a magnitude never presented before and the Minister for Health and his Government have not engaged with a sector providing care to thousands of the most vulnerable people".
"We view it as a failure by the Minister that we have to keep endlessly pursuing him as this crisis escalates hour-by-hour, day-by-day. Unprecedented challenges present in ensuring we are positioned to meet the care needs of nursing home residents. Yet we are chasing the Minister for Health for weeks," Mr Daly said.
Challenges faced by this sector include staffing issues and the provision of specialist and necessary equipment.
"Nursing homes cannot access the required personal protective equipment they require to minimise risk to residents and protect staff as the HSE has commandeered it all. Suppliers won't sell to anyone except the Government. There is a lack of consistency being applied by the HSE at local level in facilitating access to equipment," Mr Daly explained.
He said that the lack of engagement by the Minister "is a major insult to nursing home residents and staff and defies logic given the nature of this public health emergency".
"We have an absolutely essential role to fulfill in supporting our health services during this unprecedented time. Failure to appropriately engage and support our sector will actually diminish the capacity of our health services and increase pressures upon acute hospitals," Mr Daly added.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.