Residents at a Northern Ireland nursing home earmarked for closure have been given a reprieve due to the coronavirus outbreak, it has emerged.
The owner of Ravenhill Private Nursing Home in Greenisland, Co Antrim, has given a commitment to keep the home open on a temporary basis as efforts step up to ensure the health service can cope with a surge in coronavirus patients.
It comes after families of residents at the home had claimed their loved ones were being put at risk as they were being moved from the home despite a major lockdown across the UK.
Families and friends of residents at the home had also expressed concerns at the distress being endured by their loved ones, many of whom have dementia. It is understood that two former residents have died since moving to alternative accommodation, although the cause of their deaths is unknown.
There were originally 36 residents living at the home when they were given the devastating news that it was to close.
A spokeswoman from the Northern Trust said they are working with independent providers, including Ravenhill Private Nursing Home, to increase capacity in the coming weeks and months.
She said it is part of the trust's coronavirus contingency plans.
"We would place on record our thanks to all providers for working with us as we deal with this unprecedented challenge," she added.
Health bosses are putting in place a series of measures to try and increase bed capacity across the NHS.
Efforts are under way to discharge as many patients as possible from hospital in preparation for an increase in the number of critically ill patients across Northern Ireland.
There are plans to use places at private care homes for patients who are deemed medically fit to leave hospital but who require community care packages in order to be discharged.
There is also the possibility that some people currently at home, but who need community care, may be moved into care homes if it becomes too difficult for carers to visit them.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health is finalising plans to use three of Northern Ireland's largest private hospitals to increase bed capacity.
It is understood the Ulster Independent Clinic and Kingsbridge Private Hospital in south Belfast and the North West Independent Clinic in Ballykelly, Co Londonderry, will be used for urgent operations and diagnostic tests.
The news that Ravenhill Private Nursing Home will stay open is a welcome development for residents, their families and staff working at the home.
They were called to a meeting at the home at the end of last month at which the owner, Paul McGranaghan, told them that he has been trying to sell the home for two years.
Staff working at the home, which overlooks Belfast Lough in Greenisland where properties can fetch in excess of £500,000, have also said Mr McGranaghan told them it has been struggling financially for four years.
It subsequently emerged that one of the residents was a victim of the Shankill Road bomb.
Elsie Frizzell (89) had been living at Ravenhill Private Nursing Home for three years due to her ailing health.
The Shankill Road bombing happened at the fish shop which was owned by Mrs Frizzell and her husband, John, in October 1993. Nine innocent people, including Mr Frizzell and his daughter, Sharon, were killed in the explosion.