Northern Ireland news

Almost 300 coronavirus cases in Northern Ireland care homes

Our Lady's Care Home in west Belfast. Picture by Niall Carson/PA
Brendan Hughes and Michael McHugh

ALMOST 300 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Northern Ireland's nursing and residential care homes.

Provisional data from the Public Health Agency (PHA) put the number at 297 as of Monday.

Health trust staff have been drafted in to bolster the workforces in care homes, Stormont officials said.

Fifty-six homes across the north have now been affected by Covid-19.

The plight of residents and overstretched workers at care homes and struggles to secure enough protective equipment has been a major issue during the pandemic.

A nursing homes representative warned that a systematic procedure needs to be put in place.

Prof Hugo van Woerden, the PHA's director of public health, said: "While a lot of this work goes on behind the scenes, the public should be reassured that we have well-established links with these facilities.

"Whenever we have evidence of Covid-19, or respiratory illness in a home, we work intensively to limit spread.

"When the PHA receives a notification of an issue of acute respiratory infection in a care home, the agency's health protection team investigates and supports the provider in managing the outbreak.

"A comprehensive risk assessment is completed of the incident, which includes an assessment of each individual resident and the environment, and an ongoing assessment of the severity, spread and context of the incident."

He also said Covid-specific advice is given regarding isolation, containment, and infection prevention and control practice.

But Pauline Shepherd, chief executive of the Independent Health and Care Providers organisation, said there "needs to be a systematic plan in place".

"This needs to be co-ordinated and planned in terms of putting nurses in to manage Covid within care homes," she told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show.

The care home sector has nurse shortages and they have been relying on agency staff, Ms Shepherd said.

Some agency workers are refusing to enter homes where coronavirus is present.

She said other staff are off work and self-isolating due to the infection.

Ms Shepherd said care homes needed the health system to "come in and support care homes in relation to helping with staffing".

A Department of Health spokesman said trust-employed or bank staff have been working on the rotas in care homes for the last two to three weeks.

"This is happening in all trust areas, with significant number of trust staff in at least one care home," he added.

"We expect the number of staff working in this way to grow."

Earlier this month, it emerged two Belfast care homes have suffered several deaths of residents diagnosed with coronavirus.

Our Lady's care home in west Belfast had confirmed four of its residents diagnosed with coronavirus had died, as well as a fifth suspected case.

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