A Sinn Féin MLA who sits on Stormont's Health Committee has blasted the Health Department response to the Covid-19 crisis in care homes as "disastrous".

Pat Sheehan was speaking after Health Minister Robin Swann pledged additional resources for care and nursing homes which have been battered by the virus — one third of all Covid-19 deaths have occurred in care homes. Latest government figures put the number of deaths across the North at 299 though that figure underestimates the number of recent deaths in care homes. 

PAT SHEEHAN: "If you don't know where the virus is, who can you fight it?"
PAT SHEEHAN: "If you don't know where the virus is, who can you fight it?"

"The preparation for dealing with this virus has been disastrous from the start for care homes which were effectively ignored," said Pat Sheehan. "Only now is the department getting its act together. Today the Department says it will send health trust staff into care homes and has made a call for volunteers. But all of that takes time and should have been done from the outset."

The Sinn Féin man said care homes were having "a terrible time". "The virus is running rampant in too many of our care homes," he said. 

Pat Sheehan said he would use his presence at this week's Stormont Health Committee — virtually or in person — to probe again the decisions by health chiefs which, he says, made a bad situation worse in relation to the pandemic. 

"I want the Minister and the Chief Medical Officer to show the public the scientific advice they got which led them to abandon contact tracing in March. On 12 March, the British took a policy decision to end contact tracing and at some point shortly thereafter, we followed their lead. I want to know why we did that and to see the scientific advice on which that decision was based. Tell us who provided it and what it says. If it came from the SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) Committee in England, on which we learnt from the press at the weekend, Boris Johnson's spin-doctor Dominic Cummings sits, then tell us that.

"The World Health Organisation advises all countries to test, contact trace, isolate those who have contracted the coronavirus and have the population practice social distancing. But since mid-March, we haven't been contact-tracing. If you don't know where the virus is, how can you fight it?"

On Friday, the Public Health Agency announced that it would restart a pilot programme for Covid-19 contact tracing across the North to help limit a second wave of coronavirus.