The families of vulnerable residents at a Co Tyrone care home who were taken on a trip at their height of lockdown have said a major investigation "must get to the root of this matter".
A Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) has been declared after residents at Dungannon Care Home were taken out on a minibus trip on May 7 to a secure sensory garden after Covid-19 cases had been detected at the premises.
Relatives fear all those who travelled were exposed to risk, along with other residents, many of whom are vulnerable to infection. They said that social distancing was impossible, and have questioned whether appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) was used.
Both the facility's owner, Four Seasons Health Care (FSHC), and health watchdog the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) have previously dismissed relatives' claims.
Both they and the Southern Health and Social Care Trust previously rejected the requirement for an investigation having "received assurances" PPE was used and Covid-19 was not present in the home.
However, it has since been confirmed Covid-19 was present in the home at the time of the trip, despite denials by Four Seasons and the RQIA.
When later challenged over PPE, Four Seasons said this was in place and had nothing to add, except: "It is important to note that there was no outbreak at the home at the time this trip took place."
But images posted on the care home's Facebook page show that PPE was not in place, and two senior members of Four Seasons management left positive comments. These have since been taken down, but copies were retained. In addition, correspondence from the Southern Trust now confirms they were advised by the home manager on May 6 - the day before the trip - that a number of staff were confirmed as contracting Covid-19.
It added: "On May 7 the Trust offered testing to all residents and staff and can confirm there were further confirmations of Covid-19 among staff. A number of residents were also diagnosed with Covid-19".
Last week, distressed relatives demanded a Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) be declared. A spokesperson for the Southern Trust said this had now started.
"Given the ongoing concerns of relatives around this visit, we have initiated a Serious Adverse Incident to investigate the circumstances further and ensure that lessons are learned for everyone involved," they said.
A spokesperson for Four Seasons said the Trust "will have our full cooperation and of course FSHC will welcome any lessons which are learnt as a result of the process".
A spokesperson for concerned relatives of residents welcomed the SAI announcement, but said it had been hard to be heard.
"Our concerns were flatly rejected, no matter who we spoke to. We were repeatedly told our concerns were unfounded and were given incorrect information," they said.
"Even in the days before the SAI was announced, we were being told there was no issue.
"We are bitterly disappointed with the RQIA who chose the verbal assurances of care management over the concerns of relatives without cross-checking the position.
"Whatever way this SAI goes forward it must get to the root of this matter and hear directly from us as relatives. We remain upset, confused and very frustrated by what has occurred."