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Coronavirus: Number of care home deaths in Northern Ireland is still unclear despite pledge


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Health officials have refused to say how many Northern Ireland care home residents have died from Covid-19. (Yui Mok/PA)

Health officials have refused to say how many Northern Ireland care home residents have died from Covid-19. (Yui Mok/PA)

Health officials have refused to say how many Northern Ireland care home residents have died from Covid-19. (Yui Mok/PA)

Health officials have refused to say how many Northern Ireland care home residents have died from Covid-19.

The extent of the spread of the deadly virus through care homes here remains unclear despite an earlier commitment by the Health Minister to provide clarity on the matter.

According to figures released on Friday, 26% or 41 of the 157 deaths involving Covid-19 here since the beginning of the pandemic up until April 10, happened in 23 care homes and hospices.

However, the statistics do not identify the deaths that occurred solely in care homes.

They also do not identify how many of the 109 people who have died in hospital contracted the virus in a care home, and it is unclear whether the information is being collected by health officials.

There were also 7 at private addresses.

It comes as it can be revealed that three of the 10 residents of Owen Mor Care Centre in Londonderry, where there is currently a coronavirus outbreak, who died between March 28 and April 14 passed away in hospital.

This means that their deaths are not included in the figure of 41 that was released by officials on Friday, while health officials have also been unable to state how many care home residents or staff have been diagnosed with Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

There are serious concerns over the measures that have been put in place to protect care home residents and a leading dementia charity has also called for diagnostic tests to be carried out on all residents and staff at care homes where 10% of people are known to have Covid-19 - a measure that is not currently in place.

Paula Bradshaw, Alliance Party health spokeswoman, said: "It would be very useful for a whole host of reasons to know the scale of infection in care homes. We need to know this first and foremost for families. However, we also need to know so that we can identify patterns and clusters to help us bring down the virus infection rate."

Ms Bradshaw has also raised concerns about the level of funding being made available to independent care homes - a sector that was already struggling to provide services prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Royal College of Nursing estimates there is a shortage of more than 2,600 nursing staff in the independent sector in Northern Ireland, while it is not uncommon for care homes to operate with unsafe staffing levels due to the recognised workforce shortage.

Ms Bradshaw continued: "The pressures on our care homes are immense and consideration needs to be given urgently to providing them with emergency financial support to ensure patient and staff safety."

Health Minister Robin Swann has given an assurance that the safety of care home residents is a priority, and on Friday his Executive colleagues Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill expressed their sympathies to the bereaved families of care home residents.

First Minister Foster said: "We think particularly of all those who have passed away in care homes and I want to send a very clear message to their families that your precious loved ones will not be forgotten."

The Department of Health declined to comment on the collation of Covid-19 cases in care homes.

The Public Health Agency said officials are not "currently publishing detailed information relating to individual care homes due to patient confidentiality issues", with a spokeswoman adding: "However, as the situation progresses we hope to be able to produce more in-depth reports, which will include more detail."

Belfast Telegraph