Dr Michael Donnelly’s article in the Andersonstown News, 20 July 2020, correctly places the spotlight on the role and function of part of our National Health Service known as the RQIA and touches on its relationship with the Chief Medical Officer’s Office namely Dr Michael McBride .
In his article, Dr Donnelly made a number of points I agree with. In particular, we need an enquiry into how the decision was made which saw some people, who were untested for Covid-19, placed into care homes.
It is important, however, to stress this particular action to discharge patients into care homes was most likely taken out to the need to free up hospital resources to treat the many people who were expected to contract the Covid-19 virus.
In hindsight this decision may have been taken without first ensuring all care homes (many owned by private companies) had adequate PPE to ensure a 'ring of steel' to protect staff and residents.
In my opinion, how the RQIA board functioned in the past regarding issues exposed by this newspaper and other media outlets warrants further examination on how they, as an organisation, reported and to whom they are accountable.
The role of the RQIA and its response to other damming reports such as Dunmurry Manor, Muckamore Abby Hospital, Cherry Tree Care Home and Clifton Nursing Home need to be examined.
No resignations followed the Cherry Tree Care Home report in 2013, none followed the criticism of RQIA board following the Dunmurry Manor report and now none will follow the police investigation into what has happened at Muckamore Abby Hospital.
Now that RQIA board has gone, the Minister of Health, Robin Swann, has an opportunity to select a new board, more proactive in regulation and to seek to deliver improvement on how our NHS is run for the public.
He has a clean slate on which to construct something better. The criteria for board membership needs to be changed and be more representative of the public.
The public who use and pay for the NHS need to have confidence in a new board and those falling short need to be held to account. Putting in place a new board is a golden opportunity to build back better.
It is a moment to ensure past mistakes are not repeated and future services are there for the most vulnerable in our society. It is up to all of us to seize this opportunity and not to waste it .
Brian Heading is an SDLP councillor on Belfast City Council