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Editor's Viewpoint

Residents and staff in care homes must get better support

Editor's Viewpoint


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Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Health Minister Robin Swann

News that at least 10 residents of a Londonderry care home have died from coronavirus will further increase concerns about how this important sector is being regarded and treated during the current pandemic.

There are 484 care homes with 60,000 beds in Northern Ireland and coronavirus has been confirmed in 32 of them. Yet until this week the public - but more importantly relatives of residents - have had no idea of the number of people in those homes who have died after being infected.

The position should be rectified tomorrow when, belatedly, deaths in care homes will be added to those which occurred in hospitals.

Quite rightly the whole country has been applauding those in the front line of the fight against the virus. They are putting their lives on the line to save others and deserve nothing but the highest praise.

But we should also remember and applaud those who work in care homes. They are in a unique situation, spending time every day with residents with whom they have built up a rapport over a protracted period of time.

Their tasks are many but no one envisaged that they would also include looking after vulnerable elderly people who could be infected by a highly transmittable disease.

And they are doing so in many cases, according to their own testimony, with inadequate protective clothing and equipment. Little wonder they sometimes feel they have drawn the short straw in the fight against the virus.

Also we must think of relatives who learn that some residents have tested positive for the virus or died from it. Unable to visit their own loved ones they wonder what will become of them. Could they be moved to another location which is virus free? Unlikely.

Their only contact is via telephone to staff and their loved ones but that does little to reassure either the relatives or the residents. For many of the residents are well aware of the threat of the virus. They may even have learned that someone in their care home has died from it and will wonder when the next empty chair or bed appears. They are aware of their mortality in the normal cycle of life but coronavirus is an enemy which snatches people from this mortal coil before their time.

What can be done to better support staff and allay the fears of residents and their relatives? Certainly comprehensive testing of those in care homes would be a positive move. There is an impression that the Northern Ireland Executive merely echoes measures decided at Westminster rather than exploring if they can take their own initiatives.

Northern Ireland is a largely rural community with a relatively small population of 1.8m people. The response to the pandemic in England is constrained by its huge population and the challenge that alone poses. Instead of pointless arguments which have occurred at times over whether to follow advice from Westminster, Dublin or the World Health Organisation, the concentration of local politicians should be on deciding if measures can be tailored to make them more Northern Ireland specific.

That said, Health Minister Robin Swann had some encouraging news yesterday that the expected surge and death toll could be less than modelling had suggested. Of course complacency must be avoided at all costs. Instead we all must do our utmost to ensure that optimism is not misplaced and the health authorities must at last pay full attention to ensuring staff and residents in care homes are supported as robustly as possible.

Belfast Telegraph