District nurses are being trained in Covid-19 testing and in 'death verification' as part of a new strategy to deal with the the rapid spread of the coronavirus to care homes.

With reports yesterday from Britain that up to one half of all deaths from the virus are occurring in care homes and nursing homes, there are growing fears for the wellbeing of residents in care homes across the country. 

Last week, we revealed that six care homes in Belfast were among the 20 homes which Health Minister Robin Swann said had reported an outbreak of Covid-19. Minister Swann confirmed today that 32 homes are now infected with the virus.

 OUTBREAK: Kilwee Care Home[/caption]
OUTBREAK: Kilwee Care Home[/caption]

Among homes in which deaths of residents have occurred are Our Lady's Home in Beechmount and Bradley Manor in North Belfast. It is known that there are also outbreaks in Kilwee Care Home, The Somme Nursing Home in East Belfast and Oak Tree Manor in Dunmury.

By training district nurses in testing for Covid-19 and in 'death verification', health chiefs hope to reduce the need for a medical practitioner to enter the care home. 

It was confirmed today that deaths caused by coronavirus in care homes are not included in daily statistics released by the Health Department. However, Minister Swann said he hoped weekly updates would now be issued by NISRA. 

One care home manager told BelfastMedia.com that nursing home residents are in residential care precisely because they are in fragile health. "They are the most vulnerable cohort of all," he said, "so it is, sadly, very hard for them to fight back against the coronavirus once they have contracted the disease. We are doing all we can to keep Covid-19 out of the homes. We now have the PPE we need. We are locking down the care homes and barring visitors and we are now in a position to test staff so that we know they are Covid-free. However, these are not prisons. It's hard to explain to someone with dementia who is mobile that they must stay in their room and we can't imprison residents. What I will say to the families of our residents is that we are doing everything humanly possible to ensure their loved ones survive this pandemic. And we really need their support and understanding to ensure we can do that. It's a huge challenge but I can assure families that the standard of healthcare and our commitment are second-to-none."