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Coronavirus: Move healthy care home residents to empty hotels and save lives in Northern Ireland, union says


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Mr Sheehan also said he does not believe the latest support for care homes goes far enough to properly protect residents (PA)

Mr Sheehan also said he does not believe the latest support for care homes goes far enough to properly protect residents (PA)

Mr Sheehan also said he does not believe the latest support for care homes goes far enough to properly protect residents (PA)

Care home residents who do not have Covid-19 should be moved to hotels to escape the deadly virus, a public service union has said.

Unison has said all residents and staff working in care homes should be tested immediately to determine who has Covid-19, as it emerged the virus has now been detected in 53 residential facilities.

Where there are confirmed cases of the coronavirus in care homes, healthy residents should be moved in a bid to save lives, Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown said.

"We should be testing everyone; it doesn't make sense that we aren't doing that given that people can be asymptomatic and infectious," she said.

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Patricia McKeown of Unison

Patricia McKeown of Unison

Patricia McKeown of Unison

"When we know the virus is in a home we should be taking steps to protect the residents and staff. All our hotels are empty; we could be moving residents into hotels to keep them safe, it would certainly save lives.

"People who are testing negative should not be made to stay in homes where there is coronavirus."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said this option is being examined by Health Minister Robin Swann.

"We chatted briefly about this last week. [Robin Swann] is looking at whether it is possible to have Covid-free residents in nursing homes moved," she told the BBC.

"That is a very challenging thing to do, but if it is necessary to protect people, then all options should be on the table."

There are 484 care homes in Northern Ireland with a total of 16,000 beds.

Serious concerns have been raised over the measures that have been put in place to keep care home residents safe in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Many people living in residential and nursing homes are considered in the high-risk category and families have been stopped from visiting their loved ones in a bid to slow the spread of the virus. At the same time, however, widespread testing of residents and staff has not been taking place and there have also been significant shortages of personal protective equipment for staff.

Ms McKeown criticised the fact that care homes are being forced to accept residents who have been discharged from hospital without first being tested to show whether they have the virus.

There have been reports that some care homes have been put under pressure by health trusts to accept new admissions, while the Western Trust has refused to say whether it has suspended admissions to a Londonderry care home hit by coronavirus, where at least 10 people have died.

Ms McKeown said: "It is absolutely criminal if people are being admitted.

"It is astounding that we are fining people for leaving their homes yet we seem to be putting our most vulnerable at risk by not taking very obvious precautions that could save lives."

She also hit out at the ongoing confusion over the number of care home residents who are dying from coronavirus.

Last week Health Minister Robin Swann said figures would be released which would provide more clarity on the issue.

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Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Health Minister Robin Swann

Statistics were subsequently issued on Friday, with a breakdown of whether deaths occurred in hospital or in community settings including care homes, although the figures did not reveal what proportion of people dying in hospital contracted coronavirus in a care home.

"The lack of transparency is very alarming," Ms McKeown said. "The only way we can establish whether there is a problem in particular care homes is by testing everyone. If we see that there is cluster, we need to be asking why that is happening, what is causing it.

"We need to be supporting staff and helping care homes to do everything they can. The majority of these homes are in the private sector and they don't have the wherewithal to fight this on their own.

"Even basic things such as isolation will be very difficult given the environment in many care homes and the staffing issues that they have, as well as whether residents are getting proper treatment.

"When Covid-19 hit us older people were immediately identified as one of the groups in greatest danger and in need of special protection. Yet, remarkably, it appears that older people living in care homes and residential homes - and the Unison members providing care for them - have been left to the last.

"We are demanding urgent answers as to why this has taken place."

Alliance Party health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw said she remains concerned about the measures in place to reduce the spread of coronavirus in local care homes.

"The situation in care homes must be an urgent priority, and all options must be considered to ensure the safety of residents and staff," she said.

"Swift testing is vital and with the extra capacity we have, we should be able to pursue it immediately."

Belfast Telegraph