The entire board of Northern Ireland’s health watchdog has resigned in a row over the official response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The board of the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) has stepped down after expressing concern over the decision to scale back inspections of care homes during the pandemic.
They were also concerned at the departure of a number of senior figures in the RQIA in recent months, with both the chief executive and medical director leaving to take up other roles in the health service.
It has also emerged the newly appointed interim chief executive of the RQIA had offered to resign over the row, stating he believed his position was untenable.
In an email seen by the Belfast Telegraph sent from Dermot Parsons to the chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, on May 4, he said: “It is clear that RQIA Board does not have confidence in my performance in this role”.
He added that “I believe my position is untenable”.
Concerns had been raised that inspections - deemed essential to ensure care homes meet minimum safety standards - have been halted at the same time care homes cope with the biggest public health emergency encountered in Northern Ireland in more than 100 years.
It emerged on Thursday night that the interim chair of the RQIA Board, Professor Mary McColgan, had resigned when Mr Swann announced he had appointed Christine Collins as her replacement. At the same time, he expressed disappointment at the recent resignation of a number of non-executive directors.
Both Mr Swann and the RQIA had refused to provide an explanation for the resignations. They also failed to respond to a request for the names of the Board members who have resigned.
However, Mr Swann stressed he has full confidence in the current RQIA chief executive.
He said: “It is a matter of regret that a number of former board members decided to resign at this most difficult time.
“These board positions are by Ministerial appointment, yet it is disappointing that none of those resigning made any contact with me beforehand about any concerns.
“I fully appreciate that this has been an extremely challenging period for everyone across the Health and Social Care System.
“I believe the reasons cited for the resignations could have been addressed to the satisfaction of all concerned and I would place on record my thanks for their service.
“I am assured that the changes to the board membership will have no impact on the day-to-day work of the RQIA.
“Both the Department and I have full confidence in the interim chief executive. I would like to thank him and his staff for the extensive work they have done supporting care homes during this pandemic.
“I am committed to bringing about important reforms in the way health and social care services, including care homes, are regulated.
“We will seek to fill the vacancies on the board as soon as possible and trust the new board will play an important role in charting a way forward.”