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Editor's Viewpoint

Questions over Northern Ireland care homes still remain

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Health Minister Robin Swann (left) and chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride

Health Minister Robin Swann (left) and chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Health Minister Robin Swann (left) and chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride

Listening to the Chief Medical Officer for NI Dr Michael McBride and the Health Minister Robin Swann yesterday, one could be forgiven for thinking that there was no crisis in care homes over the coronavirus pandemic in Northern Ireland.

The CMO told the Assembly Health Committee that there was a broad strategic plan in action taking in both acute care and community care almost as soon as the fight against the virus began.

We have to take those comments at their face value, but our critical faculties still wonder why more than 40% of deaths from the virus occurred among care home residents.

As the CMO points out the virus has a propensity to attack those who are frail, have underlying health problems and are over 70 years of age. Could more have been done to protect this vulnerable group?

Hindsight, of course is a wonderful thing and no one would ever make a mistake if gifted with that. The CMO admits that when the pandemic is examined in the future, one conclusion could be that there were things which may have been done differently.

Both he and Mr Swann realise that there will be inquiries into how the pandemic was handled, both locally and nationally, and the Health Minister says he will be willing to take part in any such probe. It is the first time that the idea of inquiries has been publicly raised. Dr McBride is too long in the tooth to give up any admission that perhaps care homes did not get the focus of attention history has shown they required, surrounding all his comments with caveats.

Quite rightly there was a huge focus on acute care as the battle to save lives in hospitals grabbed the public attention and concerns were expressed over the number of ventilators and levels of PPE available to frontline staff.

Mr Swann is also reluctant to be questioned too deeply on the care homes crisis, although he did say yesterday that the sector - which is largely privately run - should have been better supported and better funded centrally.

We know that 70 care homes have had confirmed Covid-19 outbreaks and there were suspected outbreaks in a further 34. That is a demonstration of how quickly and deadly the virus can spread, even in homes where staff were doing their utmost to protect residents.

It clear that care homes have moved towards the frontline and, for that reason, it is encouraging that more testing is being done which may save more lives.

Belfast Telegraph