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Nothing to be gained from hiding grim reality in our care homes from public

Jim Wells



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Northern Ireland's most senior doctor has said he believes infected staff were more likely to have caused Covid-19 outbreaks in care homes than the admission of new residents during the pandemic. (John Stillwell/PA)

Northern Ireland's most senior doctor has said he believes infected staff were more likely to have caused Covid-19 outbreaks in care homes than the admission of new residents during the pandemic. (John Stillwell/PA)

Northern Ireland's most senior doctor has said he believes infected staff were more likely to have caused Covid-19 outbreaks in care homes than the admission of new residents during the pandemic. (John Stillwell/PA)

Many people are asking if the statistics on the impact of coronavirus on the residents of our care homes are so bad that the Department of Health has been hiding this information from the public.

In her excellent article in Thursday's Belfast Telegraph Lisa Smyth raised the real concerns that many have about the lack of information being released by the Department of Health on what has been happening in this crucial part of our healthcare provision.

Despite the fact that the Department receives up to date daily statistics on the situation in all care homes in Northern Ireland at 10.30am every morning, this information had not been made public for nine days. During this period the situation in our care homes has changed radically.

I am aware of eight homes in Northern Ireland where 10 or more residents have died as a result of Coronavirus. These include Ringdufferin near Downpatrick, Glenabbey in Glengormley and Owen Mor in Londonderry. What shocked me about Lisa's article was that she had made numerous attempts to obtain up to date statistics from the Department of Health and the RQIA and was rebuffed on every occasion.

The question that many people will be asking is - why are the authorities not being totally open and transparent about what is going on in our care homes?

There is no doubt that the battle lines against coronavirus have now moved from our hospitals to care homes.

It is therefore vital that everyone has up to date, accurate information on what is happening in this crucial sector. There can be nothing to be gained by hiding the grim reality from the public.

I am convinced that when the full extent of the problem is revealed this will confirm that a huge investment of both financial support and staff must be directed to the care homes throughout Northern Ireland. If this does not happen there is a real danger that the sector will be overwhelmed.

I speak with direct experience of the care home sector and have nothing but total admiration for the dedication - and indeed bravery - of all the staff working to protect vulnerable residents.

I have, however, to state clearly that without additional support the health of many residents will be endangered and this help can only be targeted where it is most needed when all the statistics on the number of people with the virus, those who have been transferred to hospital and the number who passed away are known.

DUP MLA Jim Wells is a former Stormont health minister

Belfast Telegraph