Care home residents who fall ill with coronavirus are being treated with compassion and respect by staff and clinicians, a leading medic has said.
Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, has moved to allay fears that care home residents are being allowed to die with Covid-19 without proper treatment.
He was speaking after it emerged that at least 10 residents at Owen Mor Care Centre in Londonderry died over an 18-day period as the virus spread through the home.
A further three residents are known to be in hospital receiving treatment after they were diagnosed with the disease.
There are concerns about the safety and well-being of care home residents here during the pandemic, particularly as the health watchdog, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority, has suspended inspections of facilities except when there are specific concerns that require further examination.
Reacting to concerns about the level of healthcare being provided to care home residents, Dr Black said that doctors are not yet in a position where they are being forced to ration critical care and that anyone who dies in a care home has made that choice as hospital treatment has been deemed inappropriate at a time.
He said it is distressing for staff who are caring for Covid-19 patients, and putting their own lives at risk in the process, to be accused of making decisions about patient care that is not in their best interests.
"Before this pandemic, the aim was to allow people to die outside of the hospital setting, in their own homes, where that was possible," he said.
"That was considered to be the best possible standard of care for a patient, so why would it be any different now there is a pandemic?
"It wouldn't be appropriate to transfer someone to hospital, who is at the end of their life, to allow them to die in hospital if that isn't necessary. Measures are being put in place for geriatricians to come out to care homes to do ward rounds, care home staff are linking in with hospital teams to ensure that residents are getting the very best palliative care.
"By the very nature of care homes, the people who live there are at greater risk from coronavirus.
"They often have lots of co-morbidities, they may have a range of conditions such as cancer, hypertension, diabetes or lung disease, and transferring them to a hospital for ventilation would be highly inappropriate.
"They would have advanced care plans and do not resuscitate orders agreed with their families that will be in place, decisions will have been made beforehand about their individual wishes and what interventions they would want."
Earlier this week Health Minister Robin Swann outlined the current situation in Northern Ireland's hospitals and revealed there were 49 Covid-19 patients in intensive care, with a further 38 patients receiving life-saving treatment in ICU for non-Covid conditions.
As a result, he said there were 56 intensive care unit beds not in use, meaning the health service here has not yet come close to breaching critical care capacity.
Mr Swann is due to reveal today the number of care homes that have been affected by coronavirus.
He has come under fire after health bosses were unable to say how many care home residents have Covid-19 and how many have died.
This raised concerns that our Covid-19 death toll could be much higher than official figures have suggested to date, as well as accusations that health officials have not taken seriously the threat to some of the most vulnerable people in society.