A care home at the centre of a deadly Covid-19 outbreak was failing minimum infection control standards just months before the pandemic hit, it can be revealed.
The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) inspected Oak Tree Manor Nursing Home in January and raised concerns about measures in place to stop the spread of infection.
The regulator gave the home, formerly known as Dunmurry Manor, until the end of February to address the situation.
However, it can be revealed inspectors did not return to the home - currently under police investigation after a damning review found evidence of neglect and abuse - until last week.
The organisation is facing mounting criticism, particularly as Oak Tree Manor is owned by Runwood Homes, which has a long history of struggling to deliver safe services at a number of its homes across Northern Ireland.
Pat Sheehan, Stormont health committee member, has hit out at the apparent delay in a follow-up inspection of Oak Tree Manor despite the fact that residents were dying with Covid-19 and the manager was hospitalised with the deadly virus.
"Given that we were in the midst of a pandemic and we know how infectious this virus is, the RQIA should have been sitting on top of Runwood and the fact that they weren't is a dereliction of duty," said the Sinn Fein MLA.
"Runwood has a particularly bad history of being in breach of regulations and the failings in Dunmurry Manor are well documented.
"The company has been involved in serious breaches in other care homes throughout Northern Ireland, which even resulted in the closure of Ashbrooke Care Home."
He said the RQIA would have been aware of that.
He added his party had spoken to the RQIA on a number of occasions about the level of measures it had taken against care homes, particularly Runwood's.
It also emerged yesterday that the RQIA did not inspect another Runwood Homes facility until two months after a deadline to meet infection control standards.
The watchdog first identified the fact that Clifton Nursing Home in north Belfast was not meeting an infection control regulation in April 2019.
It returned to the home on March 4 this year and issued a third and final warning to raise standards, giving it a fortnight to address the failing. But it has emerged that a follow-up inspection was not carried out until May 15 - more than 10 weeks after its March visit.
Residents at both Clifton Nursing Home and Oak Tree Manor have died with Covid-19, while a nurse working at Clifton Nursing Home is in a critical condition in hospital with the virus.
The situation at Clifton Nursing Home was deemed so serious that health officials moved in last week to relocate residents amid fears for their safety. However, another care home provider has since come forward to take over the management of the home on a temporary basis.
The RQIA was asked whether Oak Tree Manor is now in compliance with the regulations it was found to have breached following the inspection on January 14. It was also asked whether further inspections have occurred.
A spokesman said: "RQIA conducted inspections at Oak Tree Manor Nursing Home and at Oak Tree Manor Residential Home in May, and the findings of these inspections will be published on RQIA's website in July."
Runwood Homes did not respond to a request for a comment.
The Commissioner for Older People carried out an investigation into conditions at Oak Tree Manor, when it was called Dunmurry Manor.
Eddie Lynch's subsequent report was highly damning of both Runwood Homes and the RQIA in relation to the failings at the home.