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Care home outbreak figures not published for almost a week

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Unacceptable: Jim Wells

Unacceptable: Jim Wells

Unacceptable: Jim Wells

Health officials have come under fire as they have not published the number of care homes dealing with Covid-19 outbreaks for almost a week.

A daily record of the number of care home outbreaks has not been updated since last Wednesday, when it revealed that the total from Tuesday stood at 70.

The Department of Health has not said why it has stopped releasing the information, or whether it will provide the figure again in the future - despite the fact that Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill last week said of Covid-19 that "the battle is now in our care homes".

Former Health Minister Jim Wells has hit out at the failure by the Department of Health to keep the public informed about the most up-to-date situation in care homes in Northern Ireland as "totally unacceptable".

The DUP MLA, whose wife, Grace, lives in a care home after she suffered a series of debilitating strokes, said: "It does raise suspicions that the situation is so bad that the Department of Health is too embarrassed to release the figures.

"It is totally unacceptable that the public isn't being kept informed, they can't hide behind patient confidentiality, it is essential that they are open and transparent about what is happening in care homes.

"When you look back at the situation with Swine Flu, it emerged that 13 people had died and that had been kept quiet and the explanation that was given was that they didn't want to cause alarm.

"However, husbands, wives, guardians, children, they all have a right to know what is happening in care homes in case they wish to take their loved one out of a care home in the event of an outbreak.

"I'm not saying that families would necessarily want to do that, but at least they would have the information to make the decision that works best for them.

"I do fear that up and down the country, the situation in care homes is deteriorating very quickly.

"The hospitals are coping remarkably well, but it is certainly the case that the battlefront is now in care homes, and that's why it is so important that this figure is updated on a daily basis."

Alliance Party health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw, who is a member of the Stormont health committee, also hit out at the failure to update the care home outbreak figure.

She said: "I see no reason that this information has been withdrawn.

"The Northern Ireland Statistic and Research Agency figures show that the number of people dying in care homes is an increasing share of the total.

"This only re-emphasises that we need full transparency on what the situation is in care homes."

Health officials have come under increasing pressure to take measures to slow the spread of the virus in care homes across Northern Ireland.

They have faced repeated criticism for their handling of the sector, including delays to implement a comprehensive testing policy, admitting people to care homes without knowing whether they have Covid-19, and a lack of personal protective equipment for staff. Concerns have been raised over the response to date given the fact that Covid-19 is known to be most dangerous to elderly people with pre-existing health conditions.

Last week, a whistleblower revealed care home staff are working between residents who have Covid-19 and those who are healthy.

Belfast Telegraph