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Editor's Viewpoint

Don't forget Northern Ireland care homes during coronavirus crisis

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Staff working in care homes have made repeated claims that their safety equipment is not sufficiently robust. (Ben Birchall/PA)

Staff working in care homes have made repeated claims that their safety equipment is not sufficiently robust. (Ben Birchall/PA)

Staff working in care homes have made repeated claims that their safety equipment is not sufficiently robust. (Ben Birchall/PA)

As the death toll from coronavirus in Northern Ireland rose to 78 yesterday, a doctor warned that the real total could be 20-30% higher because of the way the statistics are compiled. There is also concern that the number of residents of care homes who have died from the virus are also not included.

Much of the public attention has been on developments in hospitals, with demands for more Personal Protection Equipment for frontline staff, more ventilators and more intensive care facilities to cope with the expected surge.

However, the situation in the community is largely confined to ensuring that people adhere to social distancing advice. Staff working in care homes have made repeated claims that their safety equipment is not sufficiently robust.

It is often forgotten that these staff deal with a hugely vulnerable group of people. Most are elderly, many have underlying health conditions and safeguarding them against coronavirus is a very difficult task.

There are 484 care homes in Northern Ireland, with a total of 16,000 beds, which gives an indication of the size of the sector. Care homes, by their very nature, are social institutions where residents meet regularly. Telling them that they must isolate now can be a challenging task. How can someone with dementia, for example, be expected to grasp the seriousness of the situation?

How also can many residents come to terms with the fact that they have not been able to see relatives for several weeks? If those of us who are able bodied find the lockdown something of a trial, it must be even greater for those of advanced age and limited mobility.

These are just some of the problems facing care home staff. It may not grasp public attention like the life-or-death battles being fought in intensive care units, but that does not mean the staff should have to work with inadequate protective equipment or that the residents should not be regarded as priority for testing.

The health authorities should ensure that care home owners and staff share in the distribution of PPE and that additional resources are provided if required to ensure residents are safeguarded as far as possible against the virus.

The slogan - we are all in this together - does not make sense if an important sector of healthcare in the community feels it is not being properly recognised.

Belfast Telegraph