Northern Ireland news

Coronavirus: Independent review into mass RQIA resignations

Health Minister Robin Swann 

An independent review is to be carried out into mass resignations at the watchdog which oversees Northern Ireland's care homes, the health minister has said.

Nine RQIA board members resigned over claims they were not consulted on key decisions taken during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of inspections at care homes were reduced and senior staff were redeployed as the pandemic hit.

READ MORE: Care home watchdog resignations 'could not come at a worse time'

Robin Swann said the resignations were "regrettable" but that the Department of Health had been forced to make decisions "at pace" and in "the teeth of a full-scale emergency".

He said he "didn't expect" the mass resignations and was meant to be meeting the interim RQIA chairman on the same day as she announced her resignation.

Mr Swann said he did not want to predict the outcome of the review.

He said there were "different steps we could have taken" but added this was only with the "benefit of hindsight".

Mr Swann said he had "total confidence" in RQIA staff. Following the resignations, he appointed Christine Collins as new RQIA interim chair.

"I am committed to approving regulation of our care sector," he said.

He added: "I recognise that the board resignations will have caused some concern so today I am announcing an independent review into exactly what happened".

Chief medical officer Michael McBride

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said the decision to "re-purpose" health staff had helped to support care homes during the worst of the pandemic.

He said although inspection visits were reduced, this was done in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus and inspections were not completely halted.

Mr Swann said a second day with no new positive cases showed that the virus is "in retreat" in the north.

However, he warned that it was too early to look back at earlier decisions made at the height of the pandemic.

"Yes there will be lessons to be learned but we are still fighting an unknown enemy," he said.

Mr Swann added the executive will meet on Thursday to look at any possible reduction in social distancing.

But he said the two-metre recommendation remains.

Dr McBride added the "science is the science" and although the evidence around the two-metre rule is clear, other countries had made policy decisions to reduce social distancing.

The senior medic said the drop in Covid infections was "very welcome news".

But he warned that the disease "hadn't gone away" and predicted the north will see further Covid clusters.

"Progress requires restrain and continued vigilance," he said. Dr McBride said the last few months had been difficult but "necessary to save lives".

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