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Coronavirus: Number of Northern Ireland care home deaths will be declared from end of the week


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Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Health Minister Robin Swann

The number of Covid-19 deaths in care homes across Northern Ireland are to be released publicly from Friday, it has emerged.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) has said it has been working with the Department of Health to provide further information, which will provide a more accurate reflection of the fatal spread of coronavirus across the province.

It is hoped it will also help to identify infection hotspots in care homes, where some of the most vulnerable people in society live.

It comes amid fears that coronavirus is spreading out of control among care homes - and further claims that care homes across Northern Ireland are coming under pressure from health trusts to provide places to people being discharged from hospital without first being tested to establish if they have coronavirus.

One care home manager said: "I know the test is only relevant for that point in time, but at least it would give some level of reassurance about what you are dealing with."

Health officials have come under increasing pressure for greater clarity over the extent of the spread of coronavirus in care homes, particularly as the majority of residents are considered the most high-risk category when it comes to Covid-19.

Health Minister Robin Swann has so far only released limited information about the spread of Covid-19 in care homes - on Tuesday he revealed 32 facilities in Northern Ireland have so far been affected, up from 20 the previous week.

He has not provided a breakdown of how many people have been diagnosed or the number of deaths and on Tuesday, Northern Ireland's chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, said he did not have the details of care home deaths as a result of coronavirus.

And earlier this week, health officials refused to release a range of figures on the situation in care homes, including the number of people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and the number of subsequent deaths.

There has been confusion over what information is being gathered and how it is being collated and verified since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) has been releasing statistics on a daily basis, which include the number of tests carried out, the number of positive cases and the number of Covid-19 deaths. The figures relate to the previous 24-hour period and the overall pandemic, however, they do not include the number of deaths in residential settings.

A number of different organisations have been involved in gathering statistics relating to Covid-19 cases in care homes - they are required by law to inform the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) of details about any deaths, cases of communicable disease, accidents or other untoward incidents.

This is done on a daily basis when staff log on to the RQIA portal and register any issues, which are then recorded and monitored by the watchdog.

At the same time, the PHA must be notified of any outbreaks at care homes, which is defined as two or more linked cases or a disease.

With 484 care homes in Northern Ireland and 16,000 beds, there are concerns the real total of people affected by coronavirus and the number of fatalities is far higher.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Swann said: "Currently, the reporting of Covid-19 deaths falls into two main categories - the PHA publishes a daily surveillance report, which includes information on deaths reported by trusts and focuses mainly on hospital-based deaths.

"This is important information which enables comparison with other regions. In addition, NISRA is publishing weekly statistics that include suspected and confirmed COVID-19 related deaths across hospital and community settings."

Belfast Telegraph