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Calls for an acceleration in Covid-19 vaccine programme in nursing homes

There were also calls for clarity about consent.

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A medical syringe (Andrew Matthews/PA)

A medical syringe (Andrew Matthews/PA)

A medical syringe (Andrew Matthews/PA)

There have been calls for an acceleration in the Covid-19 vaccine programme, as the number of coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes increases.

Sage Advocacy, an organisation which offers support services to older people, said there also needs to be further clarity around the consent process.

The rollout of the vaccination programme in care homes began this week, with Government stating that all residents and staff will be vaccinated by the end of next month.

However Sarah Lennon, executive director of Sage Advocacy, said the surge in coronavirus figures has “reinvigorated” the fear around the virus.

“The main thing around the vaccines is the quicker, the better,” she said.

“We need to get it done as quickly as possible, though I know there may be issues around supply.

“The other issue is around consent.

“We have had inquiries from families and next of kin, and calls from nursing homes seeking clarity about people who lack capacity to agree and what the process is around that.

“We need to be clear on the consent process and that only the individual can consent, and no one can do it on their behalf, but only if they (residents) lack the capacity to do so.

“The other thing we are not clear on is if someone refuses consent in a nursing home and doesn’t want the vaccine – will that wish be respected?

“I’m sure it will but will it have an impact on the ability to have visitors so we need further clarity around that.”

While families have a role in the consent process, it is usually on a very limited basis.

Ms Lennon says that when a resident lacks capacity to consent to inoculation, there is a medical responsibility to give them the best treatment.

“Many have been cocooning since March so it would be a welcome to have clear timetable around when medically vulnerable people will be vaccinated,” she added.

It comes as the HSE’s chief operations officer Anne O’Connor said an increase in outbreaks of Covid-19 in nursing homes was a cause for concern and the situation was “deteriorating”.

She told a HSE briefing on Thursday: “Of the 177 outbreaks in long-term residential care, we know 101 of those relate to nursing homes.

“That number has grown very significantly.

“On January 6 there were 30 new outbreaks recorded in long-term residential care and four in hospitals.

“So, in our residential care sector it’s the rate of growth and the rate of increase in outbreaks that is of concern to us.

“We’re still not back to where we were in the previous surge, however we can see the position is deteriorating.”

Ms O’Connor added that nursing homes were “very challenged” in terms of staffing.

“We’ve 101 (outbreaks) open in all nursing homes and of the 80 of most concern we have 880 staff off work.

“That’s across the private and public nursing homes.

“That’s a very significant number of staff who are unavailable to work and that’s of very significant concern to us.”

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