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Coronavirus: Dementia sufferer's son starts legal action after NI care home inspections are scaled back

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The son of a woman with dementia has begun legal action over reduced inspections at care homes in Northern Ireland during the Covid-19 emergency. (stock photo)

The son of a woman with dementia has begun legal action over reduced inspections at care homes in Northern Ireland during the Covid-19 emergency. (stock photo)

The son of a woman with dementia has begun legal action over reduced inspections at care homes in Northern Ireland during the Covid-19 emergency. (stock photo)

The son of a woman with dementia has begun legal action over reduced inspections at care homes in Northern Ireland during the Covid-19 emergency.

Papers lodged at the High Court in Belfast are pressing for an urgent judicial review into decisions taken by the Department of Health and a watchdog body.

The challenge is being mounted on behalf of Briege Gray, a 73-year-old resident at private nursing facilities in Castlewellan, Co Down.

Lawyers representing her son, Keith Gray, contend the Department unlawfully directed the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) to suspend statutory care home inspections.

They also claim that the authority misinterpreted the direction as providing flexibility to continue inspections remotely.

According to their case, Mrs Gray's human rights are being breached.

"The continuing failure to inspect is likely to result in a diminution of the standard of care, which in turn directly correlates to the applicant's chances of survival during this pandemic," court papers say.

Seeking a hearing within days, Mrs Gray's legal team said the challenge involves the right to life, with wider implications for many others.

Her son described how his already high state of anxiety due to the coronavirus crisis has been compounded, claiming the situation is "simply unacceptable".

"I am at my wits' end over this," Mr Gray said.

"My mother, like hundreds of other residents, is vulnerable and her life is now at grave risk.

"I want proper inspections and full oversight but it may be too late. I am disgusted."

Further concerns were raised about personal protective equipment (PPE) usage, despite a manager at his mother's home assuring him that all staff are wearing face masks and eye shields as part of strict hygiene procedures.

The family's solicitor, Kevin Winters, stressed the urgency of the case.

"Given the vicious pace at which this virus operates, this application cannot come quickly enough," he said.

"All efforts need to be taken to halt the rising incidence of horrific statistics emerging from care homes.

He added: "It's against this background we are taking this challenge."

In previously reported legal correspondence, health authorities responded that any decisions by the RQIA had been taken in accordance with a direction from the chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride.

It said ceasing some inspections gave it the ability to direct focus to those areas identified as priority during the current emergency.

Belfast Telegraph