Gary Kiernan: If recommendations from our Covid Paper are implemented residents will be better protected10 June 2021
The Director of Regulation for the Mental Health Commission (MHC), Gary Kiernan, has said that if the recommendations contained in our new review paper on the impacts of and response to COVID-19 in residential mental health services are implemented they will help ensure residents are better protected from future infection risks.
The review paper – titled ‘COVID Paper II: Examining the Impacts and Response in Residential Mental Health Services’ – was published earlier this morning. As well as the recommendations, it also provides analysis of key data gathered by the MHC, and highlights steps taken by our teams to support services and ensure that residents were safe and that their rights were upheld throughout the pandemic.
The data was gathered over the past 12 months as part of our work to support 184 mental health services in their efforts to manage and mitigate the virus. Combined, these facilities care for approximately 3,900 service users across the country.
“The purpose of the paper is to seek an understanding of how the sector responded, identify emerging best practice and identify lessons that can be learned to safeguard residents into the future,” said Mr Kiernan. “We all need to acknowledge the very distressing impact the pandemic has had on residents, their families, and friends, as well as the impact on the staff and management of services. If we can learn from and implement the recommendations outlined in this paper, I have no doubt that, together, we can prevent illness and save lives in the event of future pandemics.”
The findings in the report also show that frontline staff bore a significant burden of the disease. In fact, staff in the residential services, which were monitored by the MHC, were at higher risk of contracting the disease then residents. A detailed analysis of 422 confirmed cases of COVID-19 which were reported between March and July 2020 was undertaken to understand how cases were distributed amongst staff and residents. Of the total confirmed cases, 64% were staff members, with residents accounting for the remaining 36%.
Our new paper highlights the knowledge and expertise of staff in implementing infection, prevention and control practices and commends their work in this area.
The paper also notes that the guidance available to staff during the pandemic was not always tailored to residential mental health services. In order to ensure that staff and residents are better protected, we have recommended that national guidance be proofed at the outset to ensure its relevance to all mental health service types and to ensure that there is equality between mental health and physical health services.
“Other recommendations include urgent investment in mental health facilities and the development of more robust legislation to ensure that buildings are fit for purpose and meet best practice in terms of infection, prevention and control standards in the event of further surges of COVID-19 or future pandemics,” added Mr Kiernan.
“We have also recommended the retention of MHC-implemented collaboration, reporting and escalation protocols with the HSE and the Department of Health to ensure that relevant risks to residents are mitigated in a timely manner; that staff training in emerging infection, prevention and control best practice should continue to be prioritised to help prevent and manage future outbreaks; and mental health services should be considered in parallel to physical health services in relation to all future vaccination plans.”
Mr Kiernan also paid tribute to services, who found themselves under tremendous strain and facing numerous challenges on an ongoing basis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has required residential mental health services to respond and adapt to a rapidly evolving risk environment on an unprecedented scale,” he said. “From the outset of the pandemic, services have shown a capacity for change and resilience which helped them in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. The response and actions taken by services has not only ensured that service delivery has been sustained but has also prevented the spread of illness and saved lives.
“In compiling the paper, we learned of numerous examples of how staff in mental health services worked extremely hard to support and protect residents who have been impacted by the pandemic. The MHC wishes to acknowledge the sacrifices and tireless work of frontline staff in protecting residents.”