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Summary

  1. Healthcare inspection body RQIA briefs Health Committee on care standards
  2. Justice Committee receives update on human trafficking and exploitation strategy

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

Join us for 'opposition day'

Paul Frew adjourns the meeting and that's all we have from Stormont for this week.

Join us at 12:00 on Monday for live coverage of the assembly's first ever 'opposition day', with four hours of business selected by the official opposition.

Sinn Féin objects to security service role

Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan expresses concern about an aspect of the direction regarding the revoking of prisoners' licences as a result of information provided by the security services.

Pat Sheehan
BBC

He observes that "the prisoner, or their legal representatives, won't have access to this particular information".

When the chairperson, Mr Frew, asks the members if they will approve the measure, Mr Sheehan says his party "wouldn't be content to endorse this direction".

Troubles victims' families begin government challenge

Families of more than 30 people killed in some of the most controversial incidents of the Troubles have taken the first steps in a legal action against the government.

Protesters at Stormont
Press Eye

They want it held to account for failing to hold inquests into their relatives' deaths, and have given the Northern Ireland Office and the Stormont executive 14 days to release funding for inquests.

If this does not happen, they say they will proceed to court action.

Northern Ireland secretary's prisons role

Alan Smyth of the Northern Ireland Prison Service begins a briefing on the residual powers of the secretary of state for the region regarding prisons after the devolution of policing and justice powers.

Inside a prison
BBC

He explains that "in short, it says that members of prison staff, when carrying out a prison activity that remains in the excepted or reserved field, are to be treated as officers of the secretary of state".

Committee briefed on environment challenge cost changes

The committee now turns to a briefing from justice department officials Laurene McAlpine and Naomi Callaghan.

Their presentation looks at consultation responses on "Changes to the Cost Protection Regime for Environmental Challenges".

Laurene McAlpine and Naomi Callaghan
BBC

The department's proposals are connected to changes to the costs recoverable by an applicant taking a court case arising from the UN's Aarhus Convention.

Ms McAlpine (above, right) says there were 10 responses to the departments consultation, and they now intend to move forward with changes.

'Civil service sick leave cost £33m in lost production'

John Campbell

BBC News NI Economics and Business Editor

Civil service staff in Northern Ireland were off sick for an average of 11.7 days in the last year, an increase from 10.8 days in the year.

An office worker holds her head in her hands
Thinkstock

The figure is above the annual target of 8.5 days, and equated to an estimated £32.7m of lost production.

Half of staff had no recorded absence while more than one in 10 had at least one long-term absence lasting an average of nearly three months.

'Can't engage with those trafficked into sex trade'

Returning to the membership of the liaison group, Mr Frew asks if it is possible "to enable people who have been trafficked to be on that group".

Julie Wilson
BBC

Ms Wilson says they are unable to make direct contact with people who are being trafficked into the sex trade.

"We're not realistically going to be able to engage directly with them," she says, "so we're trying to work with the people who may be working around them".

'Cannabis cultivation, car washes and fishing'

Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs asks if there is a breakdown of the sectors where trafficked people are employed, mentioning reports of people being trafficked into cannabis cultivation.

A man washing a car
Thinkstock

Ms Wilson says there are "certainly some concerns around labour exploitation in a range of various types of sector," with these including food processing, car washes, agriculture and fishing.

'Pimps in sex workers' liaison group?'

Mr Frew has questions about the membership of the Sex Worker Liaison Group.

It was set up to improvement engagement between workers and the Justice department with a view to raising awareness of human trafficking and to rescue potential victims.

Sex workers walk along a street
PA

The chair asks: "Do they represent the vulnerable, trafficked, coerced people in the sex trade, or do they represent a management level - you could even say pimps?"

Ms Wilson says she thinks "they are trying to represent anybody within the sex trade".

'Failure over engagement and awareness-raising'

Paul Frew raises some of the aims of the legislation that have not been achieved.

Paul Frew
BBC

He draws particular attention to a failure to achieve "targeted engagement and awareness-raising with key sectors", including the agricultural wages board.

Julie Wilson says that regarding the "private sector and the like of the agricultural wages board and fisheries inspectorates, that's an area where we're beginning to make those links".  

'Arrests over brothel-keeping and firearms'

Ms Pearson says that during 2015-16 the police human trafficking unit "made 20 arrests and 12 of those were for human trafficking offences".

A man is arrested by a police officer
Thinkstock

Eight arrests were made for offences of "brothel-keeping, firearms possession and drugs possession," she adds.

Ms Pearson says that eight people have been reported to the public prosecution service for human trafficking offences.

Trafficking law 'to protect and support victims'

Justice department officials Karen Pearson and Julie Wilson arrive to present a progress report on the Northern Ireland Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy 2015-16.

Karen Pearson
BBC

Ms Pearson explains that the purpose of the legislation is "to equip Northern Ireland to eradicate human trafficking, slavery and forced labour, and to protect and support victims".

Welcome back

This afternoon, we have live coverage of this week's meeting of the Justice Committee, from Committee Room 30 in Parliament Buildings.

Parliament Buildings at Stormont
iain McDowell

In the chair is the DUP's Paul Frew and the matters up for discussion include human trafficking and the environment.

Health Committee adjourns

Chair Paula Bradley rounds up some brief committee business and adjourns the sitting.

Paula Bradley
BBC

After lunch we'll have the Justice Committee, starting at 14:00, with human trafficking and exploitation on the agenda.

Coming up on The View tonight...

'Ageing population sees growth in domiciliary care'

Domiciliary care raises its head now, after Mrs Macleod had said in her presentation earlier that with Northern Ireland's ageing population it has grown and the number of care homes has declined.

Younger hands holding the hands of an elderly person
SPL

The SDLP's Mark H Durkan asks how independent providers are inspected to ensure the standard of care they provide is sufficient.

Ms Connolly says domiciliary care providers are inspected once a year and and must fulfill the same obligations and standards as any other service regulated by the RQIA.

Rise in NI Civil Service sick days

BBC NI business correspondent tweets...

Julian O'Neill

BBC News NI Business Correspondent

RQIA a 'very efficient organisation'

Catherine Seeley of Sinn Féin asks the RQIA representatives if the funding the body receives and its staffing level reflects "the massive responsibilities" it has.

Mrs Macleod (below), who has just been appointed to lead the authority over the summer, says she is carrying out a review of the workforce.

Olive Macleod
BBC

She says 140 people help to carry out 2,500 inspections each year and a "very large number of reviews".

She says it is a "very efficient organisation" but declines to go further, adding that she'll be better informed about the state of the RQIA when she has completed the review before Christmas.

Sex assault claims 'just tip of iceberg'

The total of 74 sex assault reports made regarding care homes "is just the tip of the iceberg", the DUP's Gordon Dunne claims.

He says health trusts can be "defensive" and "in denial" until there is enough evidence for a prosecution.

Trevor Clarke
BBC

"I fear that the 70 assaults are just the tip of the iceberg because of the culture within the trust defending themselves and their integrity," he adds.

He asks what the RQIA can do to make sure that the "culture" is changed within trusts.

Mrs Macleod says the RQIA will "challenge" poor or weak leadership.

Care home sex assault claims 'immediately addressed'

Sexual assaults in care homes are raised by Sinn Féin's Ian Milne, after a report this week revealed there had been more than 70 alleged offences reported in Northern Ireland over the past three years.

He asks what measures the RQIA have in place to deal with such incidents.

Elderly woman with hand on stick
BBC

Elaine Connolly of the authority says nursing homes are required by law to notify the RQIA of any claims of sexual assaults.

She adds that incidents of that nature are "immediately addressed" and "taken very seriously".

"We do want to make sure that the protection of the individual is at the centre of anything that is happening," Ms Connolly adds.

Whistleblowers 'should raise concerns without victimisation'

The RQIA receives "about 70 to 80 whistleblowings a year", Mrs Macleod says.

The authority has recommended setting up a confidential hotline for whistleblowers - staff or the general public - to complain about aspects of care.

Dr David Stewart
BBC

She says people should be able to raise concerns "in a safe way and not feel victimised in any way".

Dr Stewart (above) says that health organisations do have whistleblowing policies, but a "standardised policy" across organisations was one recommendation that has been made.

'Pressure growing on emergency departments'

One challenge facing the emergency care system is that the numbers of patients arriving at the hospitals in Northern Ireland is at a "consistent level" through the year, Dr David Stewart says.

Royal Victoria Hospital
BBC

That's in contrast with the past, he says, when numbers varied depending on the time of year.

There are "a lot of good things that are happening in the system", he says, but he adds that work needs to be done to find out why more patients are turning to acute hospitals rather than other services.

RQIA 'looks for safe, compassionate care'

Olive Macleod, the chief executive of the RQIA, begins her briefing to the committee and is joined by her colleagues Elaine Connolly, Theresa Nixon, and Dr David Stewart.

RQIA reps at the health cttee
BBC

She says it receives almost £7m a year from the Department of Health to carry out its work that involves challenging poor care and protecting the rights of the public in terms of healthcare.

It looks at whether care is "safe, compassionate and effective".

About 50 services are subject to enforcement actions each year, Mrs Macleod tells MLAs.

On the agenda: Health inspection body briefing MLAs

Healthcare standards are up for discussion at the Health Committee this morning, with representatives from the inspection body the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) providing a briefing to MLAs from 10:30.

A nurse with a clipboard
Thinkstock

It is an independent body responsible for monitoring the quality of Northern Ireland's health services.

It covers everything from children's homes to nursing homes to independent hospitals.

Good morning

Welcome along to Stormont Live - it is the final day of business at the Northern Ireland Assembly for the week and we have coverage of the health and justice committees coming up.

A view from the steps of Parliament Buildings at Stormont
Iain McDowell

But first, enjoy this view out over Belfast from the steps of Parliament Buildings on this terrific Thursday morning.