| 5.8°C Belfast

Health staff visiting Covid-19 patients 'putting lives at risk'


Difficulties: the health system is under pressure due to the pandemic

Difficulties: the health system is under pressure due to the pandemic

Difficulties: the health system is under pressure due to the pandemic

Healthcare assistants are carrying out home visits and handing out medication to Covid patients who are too unwell to travel to a GP appointment, it has been claimed.

A whistleblower has said lives are being put at risk as a result of the practise, which can involve unqualified staff handing out prescription medication, including diazepam and antibiotics, to patients.

"It's nuts, someone is going to die," she said.

The Health and Social Care Board said healthcare assistants "do not carry out a medical examination or provide a clinical opinion, neither do they prescribe nor dispense medication".

Covid centres were set up to enable patients with Covid symptoms to safely access primary care services during the pandemic.

According to the nurse, there are insufficient numbers of GPs working shifts at the Ballymena Covid centre in the evenings and at weekends and as a result, healthcare assistants are carrying out house calls and relaying information about patients' conditions to GPs working in the out-of-hours service.

The doctors then recommend the treatment required by the patient, which may include a course of prescription medication.

The nurse continued: "Healthcare assistants have no medical qualifications and they're being sent out to see patients who are deemed too unwell to come into the centre.

"These are our sickest people, they are people who are terminally ill, they may be getting palliative care for cancer, or have dementia or MS.

"A lot of house calls are made to the care homes because they are full of Covid now, so there are healthcare assistants going out and assessing residents. All of these people have very complex medication conditions, they have a lot of co-morbidities.

"The healthcare assistants are checking their blood pressure, their temperature, that kind of thing and they're ringing the GP and telling them what they see. The doctor might decide the patient needs medication and will tell the healthcare assistant what to get.

"Ordinarily, what has been happening is the GP goes in to see the patient and rings out if they need anything, the nurse or whoever is with them can get medication from the drug bag and they give it to the GP, who checks it before giving it to the patient.

"Those checks and balances aren't happening when a GP doesn't go out on the call and a healthcare assistant is sent instead. What happens if they pick up the wrong box of medication? Someone could very easily die or come to serious harm.

"A lot of the people working as healthcare assistants are training to be nurses or studying medicine and their careers could be over before they've even begun, while a family could lose a loved one. We've seen before how easy it is to make a fatal mistake, a pharmacist in Antrim gave incorrect medication and a woman died."

The nurse was referring to the death of 67-year-old Ethna Walsh in 2014, who was given a drug that slows down the heart instead of steroids in what was described as a "momentary lapse of concentration". An expert who investigated what happened said accuracy checks should have been carried out but were not, and this led to the tragic error.

The nurse continued: "I would be raging if I had waited for maybe four hours for a house call for my loved one and a healthcare assistant arrived at the door. It's not good enough and it's only a matter of time before someone comes to harm."

The Health and Social Care Board in a statement, said: "Healthcare assistants are part of the multidisciplinary skill mix in a Covid centre which involves GPs, nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and healthcare assistants.

"Healthcare assistants work within a strict protocol and governance structure. Their role is to record observations and report back to the doctor. Healthcare assistants may attended peoples’ homes and provide a set of observations back to the triaging GP, to allow a more timely assessment of the urgency of the patient’s condition.

"They do not carry out a medical examination or provide a clinical opinion, neither do they prescribe nor dispense medication.

"This timely observation and reporting enables us to avoid admissions to the ED department and also informs the triaging GP to arrange for a subsequent appropriate visit by other members of the team, as appropriate."

Belfast Telegraph