The family of a nursing home resident say they have no alternative but look to move their relative to a new location after discovering the home they are currently living in has been designated as a 'step down' facility for positive Covid-19 patients.
A number of residents have already died at Rosevale Lodge Nursing Home, outside Lisburn, due to Covid-19 and the family say they were not informed the home was to be used for recovering patients to continue their care after leaving hospital.
Hotels, including the Healthcare Ireland/Belfast Trust 150-bed Ramada in Belfast, are already being used to provide a 'step down' service, but fears have been raised about introducing recovering patients to a care home setting.
It is understood the 11-bed facility at Rosevale Lodge Care Home, on the Moira Road and operated by Healthcare Ireland, was already in use before some relatives had been informed.
"We heard about the situation through a relative of another resident," a family member said.
"It was only when we went to the manager to ask what was happening that it was confirmed.
"I was told that some families had been contacted but that no-one had got around to contacting us," the family member said.
"We are now left extremely concerned as we all feel it means our relative's chances of contracting Covid-19 are increased and it obviously pushes out any chance of visiting them in the near future.
"Surely this is something all families should have been made aware of before any patients were moved into the home?
"We have told them all that we wish to move our relative away from this environment. No one has told us of any potential dangers and risks involved."
According to the latest data published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency on Friday, 303 (45.6%) out of the 664 deaths recorded by May 22 were in care homes.
The family member added: "If nursing homes are now considered the main battleground in the fight against the spread of Covid-19, why are they being used as 'step-down' centres?"
The family said they already had major worries over the care home setting. They added: "Surely the authorities should be looking at a facility where there is zero possibility of creating a further outbreak and not putting more vulnerable shielding residents in a care home setting at risk?"
Rosevale Nursing Home said that while the concerns of families are understood, all necessary precautions have been taken.
"In partnership with the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, a part of Rosevale has been commissioned as a step-down unit for elderly patients recovering from Covid-19, who are ready to leave the acute hospital setting, no longer have symptoms, but who still require nursing care before returning home," a spokesperson said.
"The step-down unit is a dedicated, stand-alone unit, accessed via its own staircase and closed off from the rest of the home.
"There is keypad entry preventing access to it by anyone other than the unit's own staff, who work exclusively in this unit and nowhere else in the home.
"There is strictly no cross-over. They do not mix with other staff for breaks or meals, they wear high level PPE in all patient contact and they do not wear their uniforms outside the home. They are fully aware of the risk to themselves and their own families and they do not take this lightly.
"We fully understand the concerns of our residents' families. We have been in contact with the next of kin of all of them to explain the stringent precautions being taken to manage this unit entirely separately from the rest of the home and in line with the Trust's protocol."
The South Eastern Trust said they had contributed to the statement issued by the care home.