Publication and peer review of data and international evidence relied on by NPHET urged
The National Public Health Emergency Team’s (NPHET’s) modelling code, and the data as well as the international evidence that it relied upon in making its recommendations to the Government in response to the Covid-19 pandemic should be published in full and a peer review commissioned, urges the final report of the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, issued today (Friday, October 9).
One of a series of 11 recommendations, the 113-page report pressed for is that the systems, processes and procedures used by NPHET, including its capacity to engage and communicate with outside medical and scientific experts, be peer reviewed by an independent expert panel in accordance with the norms of accountability and for future learning.
The Committee heard that all such recommended restrictions had been based on available capacity in Irish healthcare system, data collected in Ireland or international evidence.
Regarding adequacy and transparency of data used in decision-making, the report stated that despite requests from representative bodies of the sectors concerned and the Oireachtas Committee, this evidence had not been produced.
The State’s response to Covid-19 had demonstrated the need for data-led, evidence-based decision-making and the key role of data in informing policy, as well as developing strategy.
Measures designed to contain the spread of infection, including localised lockdowns, restrictions of particular sectors, such as the hospitality sector, and restrictions on those entering the State and on Irish residents seeking to leave the State, required accurate and robust data to be effective, added the report.
While the Dáil has wound up the work of the Covid-19 Response Committee, the report set out a lengthy series of issues it had identified and referred to “sectoral committees”, 11 Joint Committees, the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee on Budgetary Oversight to consider and follow up.
Today’s report recommended that a public inquiry be established to investigate and report on all circumstances relating to each individual death from Covid-19 in nursing homes. Draft terms of reference should be presented for consideration by the Joint Committee on Health by the end of the year.
The proposed inquiry would have to look at the circumstances that led to the spread of the virus to, and within, nursing homes, the impact of the large scale discharge of patients from acute hospitals to nursing homes at the beginning of March; the decision-making around those discharges in individual hospitals, and by the Health Service Executive (HSE), the Department of Health, including NPHET, and by the Government.
The report also lobbied for the proposed inquiry to look at the response of those said key actors to the difficulties encountered by nursing homes in preventing and managing the spread of the virus due to staffing difficulties and a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) which had been communicated to the Department of Health; the recommendation by NPHET on March 6 that visitor restrictions to nursing homes had been premature, and decisions taken not to transfer patients with Covid-19 from nursing homes to acute care settings.
Other matters highlighted for the inquiry proposed by the Covid-19 Committee were the medical expertise and treatment available in each nursing home in which residents had died from Covid-19; the nature of the healthcare plans and medical records, including individual decisions taken regarding patient care, maintained for each resident who had died subsequently from Covid-19.
The report added that the actions taken at that time could not be examined in the light of what was now known about Covid- 19, its transmission and treatment, but instead must be examined in the light of what had been known, or ought to have been known, at the time when such measures were taken in preparation for the pandemic.
Outgoing Chair of the Covid-19 Response Committee, Deputy Michael McNamara said: “Our report looks back and makes recommendations on where the Committee felt we could and should have done better and it is also forward looking in terms of the need for better systems to cope with and to suppress Covid-19 in our communities.”