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Social care staff deserve a decent wage

The alarming impact of coronavirus on care homes has been a major issue during this pandemic and this has also placed a spotlight on the crucial role of those who look after the elderly and frail in our society.

This highly contagious virus has underlined the vulnerability of older citizens, particularly those in residential homes where infection can spread rapidly and with devastating consequences.

Recent figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, published last Friday, showed that 232 people had died from Covid-19 in care homes while the Department of Health dashboard yesterday indicated 107 homes had suspected or confirmed outbreaks of the virus.

These worrying statistics provide a sense of the extent of coronavirus in this sector which has been described as the current 'battleground' in the fight against this disease.

However, this battle can only be effectively fought if the people involved are given the right tools, equipment and practical support.

In the early weeks of this crisis, concerns were raised over the supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the availability of testing.

We must hope that all those working on the frontline of care homes and in domiciliary care are now being given adequate PPE, which is something quite fundamental. Our health and social care workers deserve to be fully protected.

Earlier this week, health minister Robin Swann announced an expansion of testing for both residents and staff.

He detailed a range of steps, including a mobile testing service provided by the ambulance service and the deployment of up to 40 health service nurses to support testing in care homes, which are all moves in the right direction.

Mr Swann went further, saying the social care sector has been struggling for year and as a whole is 'not fit for purpose.'

It is remarkable to hear a health minister make such an admission in the midst of a pandemic but it acknowledges the wider issues that are well documented in this sector.

There is no doubt reform is urgently needed including better pay and conditions for those who are devoted to the care of older people.

This crisis has placed an intense focus on the essential work they do and their incredible bravery and commitment in the face of extreme risk.

A decent wage and proper recognition is the very least they deserve.

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