Care home watchdog resignations 'could not come at a worse time'
Mass resignations at the board of the watchdog which inspects care homes in Northern Ireland "could not come at a worse time", the Commissioner for Older People has said.
Nine Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) board members resigned over claims they were not consulted on key decisions taken during the coronavirus pandemic.
Health Minister Robin Swann expressed regret at a decision linked to the handling of the pandemic.
The RQIA has played a key role in the struggle with coronavirus over recent months.
Commissioner Eddie Lynch said the mass resignations were a "very worrying development".
"It will naturally raise concerns across many areas of the health service but will be an added strain on many families who are concerned about their loved ones in care home settings," he said.
“It is vital that the minister moves swiftly to reassure families that systems are in place to safeguard and protect older people at this uncertain time, and that steps are taken to establish a new RQIA board as soon as possible."
Mr Swann said: “Following a number of recent resignations of non-executive directors, I will be considering the position of further interim appointments over the coming days.
“It is a matter of regret that a number of former board members decided to resign at this most difficult time.”
Home residents have been most vulnerable to Covid-19. A total of 186 deaths have been in residential or care homes.
Mr Swann added: “I fully appreciate that this has been an extremely challenging period for everyone across the health and social care system.
“I believe the reasons cited for the resignations could have been addressed to the satisfaction of all concerned and I would place on record my thanks for their service.”
The minister has appointed Christine Collins as the new interim chair.
An RQIA spokesperson said changes to the board membership have no impact on its day-to-day work.
The spokesperson said: “We are grateful to our staff for their continued commitment to delivering on RQIA’s priorities.
“Throughout this time our staff have worked tirelessly and consistently with colleagues across the health and social care system – as an integral part of the regional response to support services during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Sinn Fein Stormont health committee chair Colm Gildernew said he was extremely concerned.
He said: “I am calling on the minister of health to come forward and explain the circumstances which led to this unprecedented action by the health and social care regulator, in the middle of a public health pandemic.
“It is essential that the minister of health urgently explains to all the services and service users who rely on the RQIA to function, how the role of the regulator will continue to provide vital services to support and inspect health and social care services.”