Belated moves by the Department of Health to shore up care homes which are proving the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic have been branded as an attempt to cover up for "procrastination and ineptitude".
"The care homes have become the killing fields of this pandemic in Northern Ireland," said clinical epidemiologist Dr Michael Donnelly. "Yet we only hear of more resource being brought in after many of the horses have bolted and, unfortunately, died. Our nearest and dearest have been sacrificed on the altar of Castle Buildings (headquarters of the Health Service) procrastination and ineptitude."
Dr Donnelly said that in Sweden they had reported that ten deaths in a million from Covid-19 were happening in care homes. "At that level, we should have around 17 deaths. In fact, care home deaths from Covid-19 are about a third of the 300 total."
Dr Donnelly said he first raised the issue of sufficient PPE for care home workers in early March. "I was told it would be released when 'the time was right'. Is April 27 the right time?"
On April 9, we reported that staff at Brooklands Care Home were set to move into the facility in order to better protect residents — the Health Department says today that it will now try to support efforts by staff at other facilities to move in.
That week, Covid-19 outbreaks had taken place in 20 homes. By April 14, the figure for the North rose to 32 affected homes (including 17 in Belfast). On April 17, the government issued statistics for care home deaths for the first time, revealing that one third of all deaths were in care homes. Calls by relatives of residents in nursing homes for hospital re-admissions of Covid-19 patients to the facilities went unanswered. Today, the Health Department says it will act to prevent such practices.
By Saturday 25 April, the number of coronavirus outbreaks in care homes reached 65 with 300 separate cases recorded.
Belfast care homes where outbreaks have been reported (up to 22 April) include:
- Riverhouse Residential Home
- Park Manor
- Fruithill Nursing Home
- Cairnmartin Court Care Home
- Mount Lens
- Kirk House
- Towell House
- Strathearn Court
- The Somme
- Cedarhurst Lodge
- Kilwee Care Home (Dunmurry)
- Oak Tree Manor (Dunmurry)
- Our Lady's Home
- Cullion House Care Home
- Bradley Manor
- Glenabbey Manor (Glengormley)
In a statement released today, Health Minister Robin Swann said "nursing and residential homes are at the forefront of the battle against Covid-19" and pledged to ensure health and social care trusts would work with homes to tackle staff shortages. The Minster announced £6.5m of additional funding for the sector and issued new guidelines which include twice-daily testing of care home residents.
The updated guidance makes clear that all patients discharged from hospitals into care homes – whether they have tested negative or not – should be subject to isolation for 14 days.