Has the delay in testing impacted upon the spread of Covid 19 in residential care settings?

Written by
Rachael O’Shaughnessy on
20 April 2020

Staff and residents in all long-term residential care settings are to be prioritised for testing in the coming days amid growing concern about infection clusters.  It is understood that deaths connected to residential care facilities account for more than half of all Covid-19 deaths registered to date.

Residential care settings include nursing homes and community care centres providing mental health and disability services.  There is a general duty of reasonable care to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in residential care settings.

Elderly nursing home residents and residents with underlying health issues are, we understand, at an even greater risk of the coronavirus than the general population. Such residents also live in close proximity to each other.  It follows that it is reasonably foreseeable that the spread of the virus could have particularly severe consequences in residential care setting and additional precautions should be taken.  

If a staff member exposes a resident by not wearing personal protective equipment for example and the resident contracts the virus, does the resident then have a claim for medical negligence? These issues are likely to be aired before the courts in the fullness of time.

It could be argued that Ireland had more time to prepare than other countries where the outbreak occurred earlier. This leads to questions surrounding the preparatory defences here.  The demand for testing has exceeded supply, but should the demands of residential care settings have been prioritised? One could argue that residents in such settings would be categorised as priority groups.  Vulnerable residents often rely on staff for personal care thus potentially for exposure to the virus is heightened.

The majority of all Covid-19 related deaths have been in nursing homes. It is reported that the first communications between Nursing Homes Ireland (the national representative body for the private and voluntary nursing home sector) and the Department of Health was at the end of February 2020. It is further reported that it was not until 4th April 2020 that a specific agreement was set out.

A national study by the Heath Service Executive (HSE) on the scale of the Coronavirus in community residential facilities has commenced. Residents and staff in such facilities are being prioritised for testing in the coming ten days. This is most welcome news.