DFI and the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET

April 22 2020, 11:37am

This is an extract from The Sunday Independent, April 19th. Thanks to them for allowing use of this extract. You can read the full article here.

Back in February, DFI had been pushing for representation on the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), the experts guiding Government policy on its response to the crisis. The NPHET has been monitoring coronavirus since January and put together several sub- groups to advice the Government on specific issues. Behavioural scientists helped it assess how the public would respond to restrictions and epidemiologists are advising it on how fast and how far the virus might spread.

DFI eventually got its representation on the NPHET, when it decided to appoint a “vulnerable sub-group” to advise it on the impact of the virus on older people and people with disabilities who were more likely to become severely ill. The sub-group met for the first time on March 6, when Ireland was in the first week of the coronavirus outbreak.

Dr Joanne McCarthy, head of policy and research at the DFI, who sits on the sub- group, said its work has not been straightforward.

She said this weekend that the sub-group had a lot of work to do in translating the expert group’s advice in trying to interpret the NPHET’S guidance for settings where things like social distancing were simply not possible.

There were issues with the health regulator, Hiqa, over residential centres that wanted to alter their layout to accommodate more single rooms or hubs for residents who were Covid-positive. It took two weeks to sort out what sort of permission the centres would need. By then it was mid to late March and Ireland’s Covid-19 rate was rising, and the first clusters had been identified in nursing homes.

Contain the spread

“We are behind the nursing homes. The disability sector is only going on that Covid-19 curve now. We’re hoping that because most people are living in smaller family units that might contain the spread,” Dr McCarthy said.

“What’s happened is we are learning from what’s gone wrong, and the challenges faced by nursing homes.

“There will be challenges. PPE is an ongoing issue in the sector. I couldn’t be confident in saying that every organisation has three days’ supply of PPE.