SOLICITORS representing the families of a number of care home residents have written to Health Minister Robin Swann to call for a statutory inquiry into Covid-19 deaths in care homes here.

In a letter written to the Health Minister, KRW Law say that families are “concerned” about a “link between Covid-19 death rates and associated risk” in care homes.

It also expressed concern about the “decision making processes” of the bodies charged with care home inspection.

The families have called on Mr Swann to bring proposals for a statutory inquiry to the Assembly. Their letter cites Section 1 of the Inquiries Act 2005, which gives ministers the power to call for an inquiry into matters of “public concern”.

Solicitors have requested that terms of reference”for an inquiry into Covid-19 deaths in care homes be “drafted in consultation” with families.

The letter calls for a judge led inquiry that would have “full powers to compel witnesses and evidence” and would publish a full report of its evidence.

Pressing issues listed by the families include statistics released by NISRA on May 1 that showed 232 Covid-19 deaths in care homes. The deaths accounted for around 45 per cent of all Coronavirus deaths locally at the time release.

Families are also concerned about “confusion and inconsistency” in reporting deaths to the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) and the Public Health Agency (PHA).

The Health Minister has also been asked why his Department instructed the RQIA to wind down inspections in care homes during the pandemic.

The letter includes a statement from KRW client Julieanne McNally of the Dunmurry Manor Support Group, who says that the situation in the care homes is “a worse scandal than RHI”.

“Hundreds have died in our care homes since this virus arrived,” her statement reads.

“I'm sure that many of the deaths could have been prevented had proper processes and safeguards been put in place.

"We had an investigation into what happened at Cherry Tree Manor, we had the Commissioner for Older People investigate the conditions at Dunmurry Manor and make a series of recommendations, so it is appalling to see what is happening in our care homes now. Covid-19 is awful but it is only highlighting the failings in the system, long-standing failings that should have been addressed by now.

"We demand a public inquiry is set up to find out the truth and to determine if we have failed the most vulnerable in our society."