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Coronavirus: DUP's Gregory Campbell urges action to end isolation of care home patients

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Gregory Campbell

Gregory Campbell

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Gregory Campbell

A sweeping restructuring of the way care homes operate will be needed to avoid residents being kept apart from their families.

The DUP's Gregory Campbell said a long-term plan was required to address issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The way that future care homes are constructed will have to change, but measures could be put in place in the short-term to address the isolation, the MP added.

It came as a Stormont health committee member called for an inquiry into how care homes have been hit by the crisis.

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said the public must be assured that all steps were taken to protect care homes, their staff and residents.

Around 45% of all coronavirus-related deaths in Northern Ireland have occurred in care homes, according to official statistics.

There are 483 care homes across the region, caring for up to 16,000 old and vulnerable people.

Residents have not been able to receive visitors since the crisis began and are reliant on telephone or video calls to keep in touch. Mr Campbell said this cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely and is calling on the Health Minister and his department to address the way care homes are designed, including access to broadband.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "So many people have contacted me who feel like their relative is virtually in prison because they can't go out and they can't get in to see them.

"In the short to medium-term, all you have to do is look at what shops have done in a matter of weeks. Almost every shop, and there are hundreds of them, has a Perspex shield up that allows people to conduct business and protects staff at the same time.

"It should be perfectly feasible and straightforward to do something like that in our care homes in the short-term until there was a permanent solution."

Mr Campbell said it was particularly important for relatives of residents receiving end of life care.

He added: "There have been heart-rending stories of people who haven't had the chance to spend the last minutes or hours with their parents or grandparents.

"A Perspex shield would at least allow relatives to hold the hands of their loved ones at the very end."

Mr Campbell said in the long-term the way care and nursing homes are designed and constructed will need to include provision for outbreaks of all life-threatening viruses, including the flu.

Meanwhile, Mr McGrath said that an inquiry into the support given to care homes in the early stages of the pandemic is needed.

Last month trade union Unison claimed its members who work in care homes had reported inadequate supplies of personal protective equipment.

The SDLP MLA said that lessons needed to be learned for the future.

He added: "The experience of care home residents, staff and managers throughout the Covid-19 crisis has been difficult to hear. Their pleas for assistance, support and PPE should have been heard and acted upon earlier.

"Everyone is doing their best to manage an incredibly difficult situation but we can only improve the response if we listen to the sincere accounts of those who feel left behind.

"It is clear to me from the experiences of front line staff that there must be an early inquiry into the treatment of care homes, their staff and residents.

"We must be assured that everything was done to protect them and that lessons will be learned."

Belfast Telegraph