The closure of the Nightingale hospital in Belfast - at least on a temporary basis - is a positive sign in the battle to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The facility at Belfast City Hospital, which can be reopened if a surge in cases is reported, was set up because of fears the NHS could be overwhelmed. Thankfully that doomsday scenario has not been realised.
owever, there are still huge concerns over the safety of residents in the 484 care homes across the province with an ongoing debate on the exact impact of deaths within that sector.
The accepted figure is at least 45% of all deaths from the virus, but the Commissioner for Older People in NI believes that is under-reporting as residents who are taken to hospital with the virus and die shortly after admission are regarded as hospital deaths.
The social care sector has always been a Cinderella arm of the health service and Health Minister Robin Swann will have certainly ruffled more than a few feathers with his comment that the sector had been struggling for years and as a whole was not fit for purpose.
Certainly many within the sector will accept that it was not treated well during the current pandemic with staff being among the last to receive personal protection equipment as the concentration was on ensuring the health of frontline NHS hospital staff.
There was tacit acceptance of that by Mr Swann after a £6.5m fund for the sector was made available last month, but yesterday he strongly denied the care homes had been forgotten about during the pandemic.
He pointed out that a mobile testing service was already operational and 40 health and social care nurses are to support testing. Staff and residents are to be tested twice a day, but the onus is on homes.
None of this should be taken as a criticism of staff who have been cast into a situation far beyond their experience or expectation. It is encouraging, if rather late in the day, that further investment in the sector will include enhanced training and terms and conditions.
Like nurses, who at the end of last year were on the picket line having taken strike action for the first time in their history to gain their due salaries, we are recognising the real heroes in our society and that includes care home staff.
They deal with the most vulnerable group of people and go far beyond the call of duty to protect them. They deserve every support possible.