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Suzanne Breen

Health chiefs have failed our old folks in care homes

Suzanne Breen


Utter contempt shown to society's most vulnerable a scandal far greater than RHI

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Older people have been left behind during the pandemic, argues Suzanne Breen

Older people have been left behind during the pandemic, argues Suzanne Breen

Older people have been left behind during the pandemic, argues Suzanne Breen

Forget all the fine words that those in high places have spouted over the years about how much we respect the older generation in Northern Ireland.

Residents in care homes here have been treated like second-class citizens during the coronavirus pandemic. Literally left to die behind closed doors because we did so little to protect them.

It was clear from China in January that the elderly were most at risk from Covid-19. And that was reinforced as this horrible disease ravaged Italy in early March.

And yet the elderly appear to have been merely an afterthought for our health authorities.

Visits by family and friends to care homes were rightly stopped mid-March, but precious little else was done to safeguard those living there.

The response was sluggishly reactive when, more than ever, we needed it to be positively proactive.

It took far too long to provide basic PPE to care workers. Training on adequate infection prevention was not provided.

The mantra of 'mistakes will be made, this is a new situation in which we are all learning' won't wash

So, the fate of residents sometimes hinged on the savviness of its staff. Women - and they are almost all women - who do a tremendous job for the minimum wage.

Inexplicably, some patients were admitted from hospitals into care homes without prior testing for coronavirus. Anyone with even an iota of intelligence could have foreseen that wouldn't end well.

The mantra of 'mistakes will be made, this is a new situation in which we are all learning' won't wash.

Of course, no health department will get every detail right from the start. But this was basic stuff.

Did they bizarrely believe that somehow what happened in Italy wouldn't happen here?

The British Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has been meeting twice a week since it held its first coronavirus discussion on January 22. The Government's Chief Scientific Advisor who chairs it, Sir Patrick Vallance, has said it flagged up the risk of care homes.

So, why did this not lead to the necessary steps being taken to shield them? Almost half of Covid-19 deaths here have occurred in care homes. The virus is in over 100 care homes here.

Experts from the London School of Economics have pointed out that there was nothing inevitable about UK care home deaths.

Our elderly were placed in the line of fire with next to no protection. Those responsible for this chain of action - or rather, inaction - must be held to account

Hong Kong has had no infections or deaths in care homes because they introduced temperature checks and very strict additional measures early on.

But our elderly were placed in the line of fire with next to no protection. Those responsible for this chain of action - or rather, inaction - must be held to account.

Even now, our health authorities are failing our old folk. There is no regular testing of all care home staff and residents.

If ministers around the Executive table or officials are against such a programme, then we need to know who they are and to hear their reasons for opposition. Absolute transparency is essential on such a vital issue.

Two months ago, I sat in Parliament Buildings as the RHI Inquiry report was published. The cash-for-ash scandal laid bare Stormont's many failings.

But if the image of farmers heating empty sheds caused public ire, then that of elderly people gasping for their last breath should fill us with fury.

Nobody died in RHI. The spiralling coronavirus care home fatalities constitute a far more shameful scandal.

Belfast Telegraph