Residents of a nursing home where at least one person has died from Covid-19 are to be moved as health bosses are so concerned for their safety.
In an unprecedented measure, Belfast Trust has begun a process to relocate residents at Clifton Nursing Home in north Belfast.
The decision is even more significant given the fact that health bosses are now faced with the task of finding alternative accommodation for extremely vulnerable people in a pandemic.
It comes after management at the home, which is owned by scandal-hit care provider Runwood Homes, repeatedly failed to adequately address concerns over infection control processes.
The company has hit out at the decision, with a spokeswoman stating "it is regrettable that the local trust was unwilling to work in true partnership" to raise standards at the home.
However, it can be revealed that health inspectors have had concerns about infection control failings at the home since last year and it was given a third and final warning to meet basic standards after an inspection on March 3. They were given until March 17 to address the concerns by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA).
It's welcome that the trust is acting now, although this is happening during a global pandemic and it's essential that no other homes are put at risk during this process Julieann McNally
It is not known whether a follow-up inspection occurred on March 17. However, Runwood Homes has said it has been working through an improvement plan following an inspection this week.
It can also be revealed that in November the chair of the Belfast Trust board Peter McNaney said the trust was "concerned that the home does struggle to sustain improvements".
Mr McNaney said the trust had been working with Clifton Nursing Home for 18 months "on issues that affect care quality and the lived experience of residents".
He continued: "As such, we are committed to ensuring that improvement is sustained and therefore care-monitoring visits to the home are more frequent than the average".
Announcing the decision to relocate residents, Health Minister Robin Swann last night said: "I very much regret that this serious intervention has become necessary. Given the current situation facing care homes with Covid-19, decisive action is essential. I therefore welcome the fact that trusts have started to contact families about moving residents as soon as possible to other facilities which meet their needs."
Mr Swann said measures have been put in place to protect residents "to give the necessary time to move residents at a safe pace".
However, Julieann McNally, who campaigned for an investigation into the conditions at another Runwood home, said: "Once again we have a home owned by Runwood Homes in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
"We know the RQIA had concerns about infection control on March 3 and did not take any enforcement action but gave Runwood Homes another opportunity to address failings. We also know that a resident died there from Covid-19 just last week, so there are questions to be answered over whether enough was done to keep residents safe.
"It's welcome that the trust is acting now, although this is happening during a global pandemic and it's essential that no other homes are put at risk during this process."
We would urge the Belfast Trust to examine their response to supporting all care homes through the pandemic and explore learning from best practice in other trusts within Northern Ireland as a matter of priorityRunwood Homes spokesperson
A spokeswoman from Runwood Homes has called for "urgent dialogue" with the Belfast Trust as the firm is confident concerns can be addressed.
She said: "The staff, like those in all care homes across Northern Ireland and indeed globally, have remained dedicated and focused on providing care to our residents through a very difficult time for health and social care where staff were themselves unwell.
"We can confirm that the health, safety and welfare of our residents remains our number one priority and have three Covid-19 positive residents living at our service with no further infections noted in the past 10 days. Through responding to the pandemic, standards in the environment had slipped and the staff team were working to address this with additional support.
"We would urge the Belfast Trust to examine their response to supporting all care homes through the pandemic and explore learning from best practice in other trusts within Northern Ireland as a matter of priority."
Runwood Homes has come under fire numerous times in recent years as a result of the management of a number of its homes, including Dunmurry Manor, now renamed Oak Tree Manor; Rose Court in Ballymena; and Ashbrooke Care Home in Enniskillen, where conditions were so dangerous that regulators closed the home with immediate effect following an inspection. It was subsequently reopened under the name Meadow View.