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Coronavirus: Come clean on the death toll, Executive is urged


Eddie Lynch

More transparency is needed from the Executive about the number of people dying with Covid-19 in care homes to gain public trust, the Commissioner for Older people has warned.


Eddie Lynch said that every person who dies in a care home deserved to be treated the same "as everyone else in society".

Mr Lynch made the comments after claiming that the number of people dying in care homes was higher than reported.

His call was echoed by Les Allamby, chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

Mr Allamby said "complete openness" was required from the authorities around testing in care homes and providing more support to the sector.

"The Executive and the Department of Health are having to deal with an unprecedented crisis at a great speed," Mr Allamby told this newspaper. "Nonetheless, to win public trust, there needs to be complete openness about the number of people dying in care homes."

Earlier, Mr Lynch expressed scepticism around care home death rates. He said some residents' deaths were being recorded as hospital fatalities.

"We know of many homes who have told us that some of their residents were moved to hospital and sadly passed away," he told the BBC. "There is clear evidence now that the number of people that are unfortunately falling victim to this terrible virus in care homes far outweighs any other setting." The latest figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency show 45% of coronavirus deaths up to the start of May took place in care homes.

These numbers reflect where a person has died in accordance to the information on the death certificate, meaning if an individual is moved from a care home to a hospital and then dies with Covid-19, their death is included among the hospital statistics.

Concerns were raised in April that the daily death toll released by the Public Health Agency did not include Covid-19 deaths in care homes.

Professor Ian Young, the Department of Health's Chief Scientific Officer, told the Stephen Nolan Show the R number - the average number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to - could be as high as 1.5 in our care homes.

The overall R rate for Northern Ireland is currently 0.79.

Mr Lynch said the methods used to record deaths had left him disturbed.

"What I've felt from the start is that every death in a care home, every victim in a care home, should be treated the same as everyone else in society," he added. "I was disturbed - whatever the reason - that those figures were not being published in the same way.

"There is a need for the Government to be transparent as possible in terms of reporting on deaths and giving as much information as possible, particularly for families at a time when they cannot be in the homes themselves visiting.

"It is really important that communication is good, so they can be kept up to date as much as possible.

"Communication is very important at this time and the Government does have a role in ensuring that people get a clear and accurate picture about what is happening."

Belfast Telegraph