When statistics relating to deaths in care homes are released for the first time tomorrow they will show multiple clusters across Belfast sites. A Covid-19 cluster is defined as two or more cases.

The figures will also show that at least 17 homes in the greater Belfast area have reported outbreaks of Covid-19 among their residents — an increase from just seven last week. 

Health Minister Robin Swann said this week that there were "confirmed cases" in 32 care homes across the North.

After mounting pressure for care home deaths to be treated on a par with deaths from Covid-19 in hospitals, the Minister agreed to include the deaths figure for homes in his weekly update tomorrow (Friday).

KILWEE: One death has occurred at Kilwee Care Home due to coronavirus
KILWEE: One death has occurred at Kilwee Care Home due to coronavirus

Care home managers say they are receiving improved support around testing and the provision of PPE which, one West Belfast care home manager said, was "shambolic" until late last week. "There has been so much chopping and changing that it has been hard to catch up," he said.

A Health Department source said that while the situation in care homes was deteriorating rapidly, the system was "still being managed confidently within current capabilities". 

The 17 Belfast-area care homes where cases of Covid-19 have been reported are: Glenabbey Manor, Glengormley, Oak Tree Manor (Dunmurry), Towell House, Kirk House, Castleview, Strathearn Court, The Somme, Cedarhurst Lodge, Belmont, Mount Lens, Parkview, Our Mother of Mercy, Tudordale, Our Lady's Home, Cullion House, and Bradley Manor where six residents have died.

All the homes where cases of coronavirus have been identified are receiving additional support to isolate infected residents but the already vulnerable condition of the majority of the elderly patients is hindering recovery. 

Meanwhile, a U-turn by the authorities on a block on a relative being with a loved one at the time of death has been welcomed by care homes who say it was adding immeasurably to the pressure experienced by staff, residents and families.

East Belfast PUP councillor and retired GP Dr John Kyle had spoken out strongly against the policy. "Clearly there are practical challenges but the way it would work would be that one family member, a close family member, would be trained in how to put on and how to take off PPE and would spend the last few hours beside their loved one at the end of their life," he said. "To be able to say goodbye is really important."

The care home manager who spoke with BelfastMedia.com said the prohibition on a member of the family being with a loved one at the time of death had "caused many a raised voice" between families and care home staff. "We were only implementing the instruction from the health agencies but, thankfully, they have now seen changed tack."