| 8.9°C Belfast

Coronavirus: Fears for care home safety in Northern Ireland as WHO declares pandemic

Close

Urging action: Eddie Lynch

Urging action: Eddie Lynch

A medical worker measures the body temperature of a motorist passing the Slovenian-Italian border crossing near Nova Gorica

A medical worker measures the body temperature of a motorist passing the Slovenian-Italian border crossing near Nova Gorica

AFP via Getty Images

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

AFP via Getty Images

Urging action: Eddie Lynch

Fears are mounting for some of the most vulnerable people in Northern Ireland after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared coronavirus a pandemic.

Staff at nursing homes and care in the community workers have not been provided with specialist face masks, despite the fact they are in close contact with the most at-risk group.

Six UK patients and one person in the Irish Republic have so far died as a result of coronavirus. All were elderly and had pre-existing health conditions.

Despite this, the Public Health Agency (PHA) has said people over 60 with the likes of lung disease or diabetes can continue with their normal routine, advising that they wash their hands regularly and avoid close contact with people who are unwell.

But it is not known at what stage a person with coronavirus becomes infectious, meaning they can inadvertently pass the virus on to others - including those who are at more risk of serious complications if they become ill. It comes as:

  • The Department of Health revealed two more presumptive positive cases in Northern Ireland;
  • The total number of people here now diagnosed with coronavirus stands at 18;
  • 246 people here have been tested for coronavirus; and
  • Chancellor Rishi Sunak has unveiled a £12bn package for coronavirus measures.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was "deeply concerned" by "alarming levels of inaction" over the virus.

Close

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

AFP via Getty Images

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

He said the number of cases outside China had increased 13-fold in the past two weeks and urged governments to change the course of the outbreak by "urgent and aggressive action".

Health trusts in Northern Ireland have so far applied different approaches to stemming the spread of coronavirus. Earlier this week, the Western Trust asked people to avoid visiting patients in its hospitals, care homes and day centres, and to attend outpatient appointments alone.

However, it is the only trust that has so far put in place formal measures to limit visitor numbers to trust facilities.

At the same time, the PHA is not providing care homes with up-to-date guidance on how to protect residents from Covid-19. Instead, staff are expected to monitor the PHA website for changes in official guidelines.

On Tuesday night, recommendations were changed so that now a person should seek medical advice if they have face-to-face contact, including talking to someone for any length of time, with a person with Covid-19.

The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch, said: "I'm aware health officials are working very hard on contingency plans in the midst of this outbreak, however older people are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of coronavirus.

"It's important that details of contingency plans are shared as soon as possible so that older people and their relatives can be reassured. I am meeting with senior health officials later this week and this is one of many issues I will be raising."

Mr Lynch said it is important to check on older neighbours and relatives and follow advice to avoid spreading the virus.

"Everyone has a role to play in helping to look after our older people during what is a very worrying time for them," he said.

Alliance Party health committee member Paula Bradshaw said it is important advice does not cause confusion. She said: "I would re-state my concern that advice here is not as thorough as it is on the NHS site for Great Britain, and that different trusts appear to be advising different things."

DUP health committee member Alex Easton also said it is imperative that health officials issue consistent advice.

"I do think people working in care homes and home help should be given all of the proper protective equipment that will help reduce the spread of the virus and keep people more at risk of coming to harm safe," he said.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Robin Swann has said dozens of elective procedures may be cancelled to free up bed space for those who contract coronavirus. He said: "I suppose we need to be clear that at some point in Northern Ireland we will be looking at a fatality as well."

Mr Swann also welcomed news that public sector union Nipsa is immediately suspending industrial action in hospitals. It had been the only union carrying out action in the healthcare sector after a deal over pay and staffing was hammered out in January.

"This is the right and responsible decision, particularly as we prepare to deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. I do not underestimate how tough a decision this was for NIPSA to take, and I respect the importance that its members - indeed, all of our workers and trade unions - place on safe staffing," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Health & Social Care Board said guidance was issued to care homes in February and this was followed up by a letter from the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority on Wednesday. She added: "We are also carrying out a series of engagements with the domiciliary and independent care home providers and older people's representative groups."

Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.

Already have an account?

Belfast Telegraph


Related Content