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Coronavirus: £11.7m funding boost for care homes as Swann promises reform of sector in Northern Ireland

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Support: Robin Swann

Support: Robin Swann

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Support: Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann has announced an £11.7m support package for care homes, the first step towards ensuring lessons from the pandemic are learned and implemented in the sector.

He said the package will work towards reshaping how we look after our elderly in the future.

"Care homes remain at the forefront of our battle against the virus and it is essential that they are provided with as much support as possible," Mr Swann said

"The threat will be with us on a long-term basis so it is vital that we learn lessons from the devastating experiences in care homes not just here, but internationally."

The funding will enable care homes to pay staff 80% of their salary when on sick leave for Covid-19-related reasons, support cleaning costs and provide vital specialist equipment. Any suggestion financial aid has come too late was dismissed by chief social worker Sean Holland, who said: "We should see this as the beginning of a programme of investment to try and make sure that the long-term sustainability of the care sector in Northern Ireland is secured.

"That will be an ongoing process and it will require the support of Executive colleagues and the public in a movement to transform.

"Done well, it is a blessing to watch this work, but most are on minimum wage.

"If we as a society really value our older people like everyone says, you have to put your money where your mouth is.

"This will be meaningless if it's not accompanied by a commitment to ongoing reform beyond this pandemic."

Throughout the outbreak there have been serious questions over how care homes have been prioritised, and how some homes have operated during the pandemic.

Pauline Shepherd, chief executive of Independent Health and Care Providers, said that while the move was "reactive", it was still welcome.

"It helps considerably," she said.

"But this money will be needed continuously.

"At the beginning the focus was on hospitals before we realised the impact this would have on our care homes.

"But it's positive and we look forward to further announcements on reform."

After revealing that over 6,600 care home residents and almost 7,600 staff have now been tested for Covid-19 - around 50% of each - Mr Swann said he was looking at ways of improving accountability and monitoring care homes which repeatedly fall short of the regulatory standards.

"A rapid learning initiative is under way to identify key lessons from care home experiences of Covid-19 and I have already gone on record saying we need to take a long, hard look at how we provide social care," he said.

"Covid-19 has brought home the pressing need for reform and investment.

"The new funding, in addition to £6.5m already promised earlier in the crisis, will allow all care homes to implement significantly enhanced cleaning regimes, reflecting the importance of measures such as basic hygiene and cleaning in combating the virus.

"Up to £2.2m of the funding will be for the provision of new equipment to help with early identification of a wider range of symptoms that may indicate an infection and allow for prompt clinical responses

"It will also support the widespread use of tablet devices to ensure online communication with families in the continuing absence of visits.

"The Covid-19 emergency has shone a harsh light on the long-standing challenges facing social care.

"I am committed to tackling these issues through investment and reform."

The funding was hailed by DUP health spokeswoman Pam Cameron. She said: "This is a very welcome step. The package will go a long way in relieving financial pressures."

Belfast Telegraph