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Swann hints that inquiry into care homes is coming

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Health Minister Robin Swann. Credit: Jonathan Porter/Presseye

Health Minister Robin Swann. Credit: Jonathan Porter/Presseye

Health Minister Robin Swann. Credit: Jonathan Porter/Presseye

The health minister has given the clearest indication yet that he may establish a public inquiry into the response to Covid-19 in Northern Ireland care homes.

Robin Swann has repeatedly said the Northern Ireland response will be considered by the UK-wide public inquiry, which is due to begin in spring next year.

However, he is facing mounting pressure to announce a public inquiry to examine the raft of concerns about the official response in care homes here, including a recent call from the Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland (COPNI).

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll asked Mr Swann for his assessment of calls for an official probe as the Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland added his voice to the growing number of people appealing for an investigation which concentrates on the response here.

The UUP minister said: “It is important that the response to the Covid-19 pandemic will be reviewed in a local context and that will include the handling of Covid-19 in our care homes.

“The requirement for a separate Northern Ireland Inquiry and the scope of any such inquiry can reasonably be considered at a later stage once there is clarity regarding the UK-wide Public Inquiry.

“This will help to ensure a more informed decision and will assist in avoiding unnecessary overlap or duplication of work.”

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However, he stopped short of providing a timeline for any decision on the matter to be made.

“I have previously stated there will be a point in the future when we can look back, reflect and make sure we have learned the appropriate lessons,” he said.

“As I am sure you are aware, the Prime Minister made a statement to the House of Commons on May 12, 2021, announcing that an independent UK-wide public inquiry into the handling and management of Covid-19 pandemic would commence during the lifetime of this Westminster Parliament under the 2005 Inquiries Act.

“It is anticipated that this will be in the spring of 2022.

“The Executive has not yet been consulted on the scope and detailed arrangements for the public inquiry announced by the Westminster Government and I will give full consideration to the draft terms when they are received, which will help to inform the way forward.”

A range of concerns have been raised over the official response to the pandemic in relation to care homes by charities, families and care home representatives.

Mr Carroll said: “Clearly there are many questions over what measures were put in place to protect people in care homes at the start of and during the pandemic that need to be answered.

“The only way this will come about is through a public inquiry where a light is shone on decisions made by the minister, Department of Health and whole Executive.

“I note the minister’s answer to my question, stating that a decision around an inquiry may be based on what happens with the Westminster inquiry.

“However, health is a devolved matter and everyone, especially those who lost loved ones in care homes from Covid, have a right to answers in a quick and timely manner.

“They have a right to know whether the infections and deaths could have been avoided.”

Last week, as he called for a public inquiry, Older People’s commissioner Eddie Lynch said: “Over the past year we witnessed the incorrect recording of care home deaths, families having no access to loved ones, PPE supply problems, inappropriate use of do not attempt resuscitation orders, the slow introduction of testing, the transfer of Covid-positive patients into care homes – the list goes on.”


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