Measures to protect care homes in Northern Ireland during the pandemic could have been handled differently, Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride has said. Meanwhile, Health Minister Robin Swann defended his actions on protecting care homes, saying: “I’ve nothing to hide.”
The response to protect Northern Ireland's care homes from Covid-19 could have been handled differently, one of the most senior NHS officials has said.
Dr Michael McBride, Northern Ireland's chief medical officer (CMO), has rejected concerns raised about policies relating to care homes in Northern Ireland.
However, appearing at the Stormont health committee on Wednesday, Dr McBride said health officials are willing to review the response to date and said lessons will be learned.
In a fractious exchange between committee chair Colm Gildernew and Dr McBride, the CMO said: "I think in terms of could we do more or could there have been more that could have been done, I think there will come a time for us to look back and examine all that we have done to this point in time.
"There absolutely will be learning, make no shadow of a doubt about that, we now know more about this virus than we did at various points, weeks and indeed months ago - and undoubtedly there will be learning and there will be things which we may have done differently. I mean again I am very happy to acknowledge that."
There will always be an opportunity to look back and ask could we have done moreDr Michael McBride
He continued: "In terms of what we did do and the steps we did take, I think that we took graduated steps at appropriate points in time.
"I think our response from the outset has been comprehensive, I think it's been supportive, I think it's been detailed.
"There will always be an opportunity to look back and ask could we have done more."
He added that "the tragic consequences of this virus is that it preferentially attacks the frail, the elderly and those with underlying conditions".
"I think that the impact on our care home sector could have been much worse had we not taken the steps at the time that we took those steps."
Dr McBride's comments came after Sinn Fein MLA Mr Gildernew asked whether he believed "everything was done to ensure resilient surge plans were put in place within care homes".
Mr Gildernew subsequently asked Dr McBride whether it was a mistake to discharge Covid-positive hospital patients into care homes.
While Dr McBride acknowledged there was a policy to free up hospital beds ahead of the surge, this was done to ensure the best possible care would be available to people seriously ill with Covid-19.
"I don't think any of us sitting in this chamber today, looking at what was emerging across Europe, the people who were dying for not being able to access care, felt that it was anything other than appropriate that we ensured that we had the capacity within our healthcare system to provide acute care," he said.
On Wednesday, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said Dr McBride would have a role in deciding when restrictions on sporting events would end.
She said she was also engaging with sporting officials in England, Scotland and Wales on what sorts of measures will be required.
"And we will be engaging with the chief medical officer (Dr Michael McBride) and the health minister (Robin Swann) as we start to move through," she said.
"So we're not going to sit about, we're not waiting until we get to step five, we're proactively looking at these issues at the moment, we're working with the sporting codes to see what measures could be put in place to minimise risk," she said.