Level of staff training is one factor in nursing home Covid death rate: Van Dissel

Cabins help elderly meet family in safety Photo: S. Boztas
Cabins help elderly meet family in safety Photo: S. Boztas

Dutch chief virologist Jaap van Dissel has come under fire for saying in an interview that the high number of deaths in nursing homes during the first coronavirus wave was partly down to the level of staff training.

In the interview, on public broadcaster NOS, Van Dissel was asked what had gone wrong in care homes, where thousands died and where protective clothing was virtually unobtainable.

‘We have learned that a lot of factors are at play.They include the level of training of the care workers, the situation in the home,’ Van Dissel said. ‘It is more complex than one single measure, no matter how much one would like that to be the case.’

Over 10,000 people died of coronavirus in the Netherlands during the first wave, and around 60% of the victims were living in long-term care homes, either because they were very elderly, had chronic health conditions or were disabled.

Nursing organisations have reacted angrily to the RIVM chief’s comments. The suggestion that infections were down to the level of training of front line staff is inappropriate and shows a lack of respect,’ said Marita de Kleijne, chairwoman of care workers organisation V&VN.

‘This is a smack in the face of all the colleagues who have been there day and night and under heavy pressure for their vulnerable residents,’ she said.

Care staff, she said, were running major risks because of the lack of PPE. In addition,
De Kleijne referred to, ‘the unsafe and unrealistic RIVM guidelines for the use of protective equipment and facemasks, and the waving away our concerns about asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic infections. We have not heard Van Dissel comment on that.’


Protective gear was not recommended for use in nursing homes until July, and was not made a requirement for all contact with residents in nursing homes until September. The delay is said by some to be partly down to the shortage of medical face masks in particular.

During the interview Van Dissel said he did not know if things should have been done differently. ‘What we have done, continuously, is try to make an honest assessment of the risks,’ he said.

The RIVM has since said that the statement about training was not meant as an attack on care staff.

There are some 2,500 nursing homes in the Netherlands and at the height of the pandemic in April, 900 of them were dealing with coronavirus cases.

Thank you for donating to DutchNews.nl.

We could not provide the Dutch News service, and keep it free of charge, without the generous support of our readers. Your donations allow us to report on issues you tell us matter, and provide you with a summary of the most important Dutch news each day.

Make a donation