Relatives of residents in a Co Tyrone care home are calling for a Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) to be declared, due to ongoing concerns around Covid-19 infection control.
Concerns arose after it emerged some residents of Dungannon Care Home were taken on a minibus trip at the height of lockdown on May 7 and while Covid-19 testing was under way at the premises.
Relatives feared all those who travelled were exposed to risk, along with other residents, many of whom are vulnerable to infection. Social distancing was not possible and relatives were adamant that appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) was not used.
It has now also been confirmed Covid-19 was present in the home at the time of the trip, despite denials by the facility's owner, Four Seasons Health Care and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) health watchdog.
Both they and the Southern Trust dismissed the need for an investigation, having "received assurances" that PPE was used and Covid-19 was not present in the home.
When asked, the RQIA said discussions with the home manager "assured that staff had appropriate PPE and equipment to sanitise surfaces… There were no Covid-19 cases confirmed at that time and when confirmed, further trips were cancelled".
A spokesperson for Four Seasons insisted: "Staff had appropriate PPE and the residents were not symptomatic."
When later challenged on the issue of PPE, Four Seasons repeated 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 on the care home's Facebook page show 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 it was advised "by the home manager on 6 May that a number of staff were confirmed as contracting Covid-19. On 7 May 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".
Neither Four Seasons nor RQIA responded when made aware of these contradictions.
Relatives now believe a SAI must be declared, having been left frustrated and fearful for loved ones, particularly as previous concerns were dismissed.
An SAI is defined as any event or circumstance that led or could have led to serious unintended or unexpected harm, loss or damage to patients. Factors include potential issues around poor clinical or management judgement, the involvement of a large number of patients, or the incident being of public concern.
Guidance says the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), with input as appropriate from the Public Health Agency (PHA) and RQIA, review each incident and decides whether any immediate action is required.
All agencies were alerted to the issue, including those above and the Department of Health.
The HSCB replied that this was a matter for the Southern Trust, which in turn said it had been unable to reach "key contacts" for a response, and hoped to reply next week.
The PHA meanwhile passed the enquiry to the HSCB "as they lead on SAIs from Trusts."
The RQIA confirmed the matter is being shared with its care homes team and "will require further scrutiny".
The Department of Health did not respond.