Only 40% of care homes in Northern Ireland have set up a scheme that reunites residents with their families - five months after it was launched by health officials, it can be revealed.
Northern Ireland’s chief nursing officer has expressed her disappointment at the failure of hundreds of care homes to sign up to the government-backed Care Partner scheme.
Professor Charlotte McArdle said: “I understand completely how awful it is for those families and how distressed many of them are.
“I see no reason why they cannot introduce care partners more quickly.
“In the interest of the population that they serve and their residents, I would urge them to bring forward care partners very, very quickly.”
Prof McArdle made the comments as she appeared in front of the Stormont health committee this week to brief them on the nursing workforce.
She was asked for an update on the implementation of the Care Partner scheme by People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll.
Prof McArdle told the committee the scheme had been put in place by 30% of care homes.
The Care Partner scheme was launched last September by the Department of Health and allows a named person to spend time supporting staff with caring for their loved one.
This can include encouraging them to eat and drink and is an addition to visits.
However, there have been significant issues in the rollout of the programme.
Reacting to Prof McArdle’s update on the situation, Mr Carroll expressed disappointment, while DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley described the low take-up as “scandalous”.
He continued: “The sad thing on this, by the time we get to 100% of care homes rolling this out, we hopefully will be well beyond Covid.
“Sadly, loved ones have lost their friends their family during a time when they haven’t been able to avail of Care Partner.
“It’s very distressing for them and I would just urge upon the Department to put pressure now and try and focus attention on getting that scheme rolled out ASAP.”
Following the meeting, a spokeswoman from the Department of Health said approximately 40% of care homes have now implemented the programme, which she said reflects the work by officials to promote the scheme.
She continued: “It is clear, however, that there are a significant number of families who feel that they have not been able to successfully set up care partner arrangements, in line with regional guidance.
“Some of the stories told by families are deeply concerning.
“We know that they do not reflect the sector as a whole and appreciate how hard many homes have been working to facilitate the safe introduction of care partner arrangements.”
She said efforts will continue to encourage more homes to sign up to the scheme and added: “The Health Minister fully acknowledges the dedication of all independent care home providers and staff who continue to work tirelessly to provide care to residents under such challenging circumstances.”
However, Julieann McNally from Care Home and Support NI (CHASNI) slammed the management of the scheme.
“The Care Partner scheme has been in disarray from day one,” she said.
“We believe it is a safe and effective way for care residents to have invaluable contact with their loved ones yet we constantly hear from families who are being given incorrect information about the scheme.
“Care homes are incorrectly telling families that they cannot be a care partner and we are hearing from some families that their loved ones are coming to harm, their condition is deteriorating because of the isolation.
“We’re very concerned and we want the Health Minister to intervene urgently.”