Northern Ireland news

Health minister announces new 'framework' to transform care home sector with more nursing and GP support

Health minister Robin Swann has called for a transformation of the care home sector is staffed
Seanín Graham

HEALTH minister Robin Swann last night called for greater nursing and GP support in care homes as part of an overhaul of services coming out of the pandemic.

Announcing a new "framework" for nursing and medical input into homes, Mr Swann stressed that while he did not want to convert care facilities into "mini-hospitals", the "right level" of clinical support must be available "at the right time".

Vulnerable care home residents account for more than half of the north's coronavirus-related deaths.

Mr Swann said the "learning" of recent months had shown the "high level of frailty" among residents while highlighting the sector required "more resilience".

"Residents who would have been in hospital five years ago and receiving palliative or end of life care are often now cared for in nursing and residential homes. Residential homes are often now providing a level of care that would have previously been found in nursing homes," he said.

"I have therefore asked the Chief Nursing Officer, Professor Charlotte McArdle, to co-design a new framework in partnership with the care home sector for the provision of clinical care.

"This work will include examining how we would expand nursing, medical and multidisciplinary support, clinical leadership and specialist skills in collaboration with care home staff. This will include building on the important role of GPs in care homes."

The move comes a week after a leaked letter revealed health trust bosses were told at the height of the outbreak in April that 'positive' Covid-19 cases from hospitals could still be admitted to homes as long as they could be isolated.

The correspondence was sent by the department's Permanent Secretary, Richard Pengelly, to trust chief executives and the RQIA watchdog.

Mr Swann confirmed that further work is underway to "learn from care home experiences of Covid-19".

“We must learn from the experiences of the past number of months, including what worked well. Together with the care home sector, we will work to implement measures that can have a positive impact. This is fundamental in protecting our care home population in any future surge," he added.

Concerns about the redeployment of nurses to homes were raised by a trade union two months ago following an appeal by department chiefs to the sector to "volunteer" its services.

Royal College of Nursing chief Pat Cullen said that while she recognised the difficulties for care homes in attracting staff - many are reliant on costly agency workers - there were also serious nursing shortages due to "lack of investment", with more than 2,000 unfilled jobs that led to strike action last year.

GPs have also spoken of the pressures facing their sector during the pandemic, with an on open letter written to Mr Swann about their frustrations of staffing under-used Covid centres while patient demand in practices is building.

Separately, Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride has confirmed that he will issue advice "shortly" to health professionals about a £5 'wonderdrug' discovered to be an effective treatment for the sickest coronavirus patients.

Mr Swann also welcomed the results of the clinical trials for the anti-inflammatory steroid, Dexamethasone, which scientists found cut the risk of ventilated patients dying by a third.

"The positive findings for Dexamethasone will allow us to roll the drug out across Northern Ireland in advance of a potential second wave, providing huge benefits to those most impacted by the infection, ultimately helping to save lives," he said.

Last night it emerged a patient was flown by the RAF from Northern Ireland to England for Covid-19 treatment.

The patient travelled early on Wednesday from Belfast International Airport to East Midlands Airport for transfer to Leicester's Glenfield Hospital.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said this is the fourth time the RAF has provided assistance to the department by transferring a patient during the coronavirus pandemic.

Figures released yesterday show there was one more Covid-19 death reported in the north, bringing the total recorded by the department - which are mainly hospital related fatalities - to 543.

In the Republic, a further three people died with the virus, bringing the death toll to 1,710.

There were 184 deaths across the UK, bringing the total number of people to have died after testing positive for Covid-19 to 42,153.

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