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NI's care home sector 'left to fend for itself' as crisis began

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Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride

Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride

Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride

A damning report into a Government policy advising hospitals to discharge patients into care homes without Covid-19 testing underlines how the social care sector here was "left to fend for itself", an MLA has said.

Colin McGrath, a SDLP MLA who sits on the health committee, made the comment after a Commons report branded the policy "reckless" and "appalling".

Published today, the report by the cross-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC) insisted the discharging of around 25,000 patients in England to free up beds was an example of the Government's "slow, inconsistent and at times negligent" approach to social care.

Hospitals in England were asked on March 17 to discharge patients, but patients did not require a coronavirus test prior to discharge until April 15.

The Executive's role in how care homes were protected during the pandemic has also been the subject of controversy, including the similar discharging of care home residents from hospital without having been tested for coronavirus.

Dr Michael McBride, the Chief Medical Officer, admitted in May the response could have been handled differently, adding that lessons would be learned.

When asked if it was a mistake to discharge Covid-positive hospital patients into care homes, the CMO acknowledged there was a policy to free up hospital beds ahead of the surge.

Mr McGrath told the Belfast Telegraph last night the report also highlights how the response was also flawed here as well.

"Our care home sector was left to fend for itself - if only for a period at the beginning of the outbreak," he said.

"This pandemic was new to us all.

"But we must take the learning of the past, implement it into our future practice and do all we can to minimise the threat to care homes going forward."

The South Down representative called on the Department of Health to examine practices to ensure vulnerable older people and care home staff are given more protection to "minimise any further future spread of coronavirus should a second wave arrive".

Mr McGrath's plea comes as yesterday a rolling programme of Covid-19 testing in our care homes, starting on August 3, was announced by Health Minister Robin Swann.

This will involve regular testing for all residents and staff in homes which do not have a confirmed outbreak of the virus.

Staff will be tested fortnightly and all residents on a monthly basis.

Testing continues to be prioritised for care homes with an outbreak.

"With the threat from Covid-19 still present, we must continue to do all we can to support care homes. That means protecting residents and staff," said Mr Swann.

"I want to again pay tribute to care home staff for all the work they have done during this pandemic."

Belfast Telegraph