The current model of care means older people are still ‘at risk’ from infectious diseases, Tony Holohan has said.
Between March 2020 and March 2023, 27% of all people who died with COVID-19 were living in care homes.
Older people are more likely to become seriously ill or die if they contract the disease and the former Chief Medical Officer said it had proved very difficult to protect them from coronavirus.
“The reality is nursing homes cannot be fully sealed off from the community,” he told The Pat Kenny Show.
“We had raging infection levels in the community and it’s impossible to completely protect when you have such high-levels of community transmission.
“So, the first thing we must do, and did do, effectively and quickly was limit community transmission and then we focused substantially on nursing homes and putting in place specific measures to try and protect nursing homes.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said there will be a public inquiry into the State’s handling of the pandemic in order to “learn lessons” for the future.
The experience of nursing homes will be among the inquiry’s remit and Dr Holohan said there needs to be fundamental change to the way in which society looks after the elderly.
“But the truth of it is - and it’s a hard thing to say - if we had set about designing a model of care to place older people at greater risk, we couldn’t have done much better than building the model of nursing care that we have and that’s something that we must address into the future,” he said.
Critics of the Government’s response to COVID-19 have said officials should have shut Ireland’s borders early in 2020.
However, Dr Holohan said it took some time for them to realise the true “scale” of the crisis they were facing.
“Could we put some of those measures in place at an earlier stage? We were trying to ensure that we, first of all, followed what the science was saying,” he said.
“Second of all, that we followed both what the ECDC and the WHO were recommending.
“And that we didn’t move out of step with what either the science or the international advice was saying and at those early stages, there was strong advice against the imposition of international travel prohibitions and all of that.”
Dr Holohan’s memoir, We Need To Talk, about his 14 years as Chief Medical Officer was published last week and is available in bookshops nationwide.
Main image: Split of an older person's hands and Tony Holohan.