Northern Ireland Assembly

Care homes the 'Cinderella service'

Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit raises an issue flagged by a constituent whose relative was admitted to a care home that had previously received a number of complaints about "infection prevention" over a number of years.

He asks if there is a correlation between complaints raised about care homes and deaths.

Mr Swann replies “in regards to the care home structure” he says it should be “better funded and supported centrally”.

He says “it’s been the Cinderella service” adding “we’ve always expected them to be there”.

The minister says from visiting care homes and speaking to domiciliary workers it’s clear to see “they love what they do”.

Gerry Carroll
NI Assembly

The Chief Medical Officer refers to an earlier point about footfall in care homes.

He says “there have been inspections in care homes” where they were required during the pandemic.

Dr McBride outlines how the RQIA was repurposed and says it is in “daily contact with care homes”.

He adds, “I genuinely believe that the support we provide by RQIA into the care home sector has been extremely beneficial”.

'284 health service staff absent with positive Covid tests'

The DUP's Alex Easton says his sister is a nurse and is currently off sick with the virus.

He says the minister and the CMO are doing "the best possible job you can".

He says he believes there are currently two wards closed in the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald, and a floor in the Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn.

He asks for an update on ward closures due to staff sickness.

Alex Easton
NI Assembly

The minister says the latest figure he has for health service staff who were absent due to a positive Covid test is 284.

There are 1,792 staff who are self-isolating, Mr Swann adds.

This amounts to 2.9% of the staff population.

'The enemy here is the virus'

Sinn Féin’s Colm Gildernew thanks the minister for his statement and dives straight into questions.

He asks about care homes and references previous committee evidence sessions on the efforts to combat Covid-19 in care homes.

He pushes the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) to outline if more could have been done for this sector.

Dr McBride says "from the outset we made clear that a lot of was going on right across health and social care".

He says the media focus in many instances was "on the acute sector" and "ventilator capacity" due to reports from other European countries.

The CMO outlines the "graduated steps" which were taken in response to the virus and says there will "always be an opportunity to say, 'we could we have done more'".

Dr McBride adds that the "tragic consequences of this virus is that it preferentially attacks the frail elderly and those with underlying conditions".

"The impact on our care home sector could have been much worse," he adds.

Michael McBride
NI Assembly

Mr Gildernew asks the CMO "what evidence are you basing your assertion last week" that the virus was going into care homes via staff rather than admissions out of hospital.

Dr McBride says that he "made no such assertion" and clarifies that he told media there was a need for "detailed analysis and work on various routes and transmission into care homes".

He says "the headline over that was not what I said," adding he is "happy to provide for the committee" evidence based on other pandemics about the outbreaks of infections disease through movement of staff, visitors and others into care homes or other settings.

The CMO adds that "irrespective of how diligent we are in relation to PPE, this is a highly transmissible virus".

Dr McBride adds it is a matter of "deep personal regret" that the media reported that the CMO has indicated he was "blaming health care workers".

He says, "nothing could be further from the truth".

"The enemy here is the virus," says the CMO adding that health care workers and others on the front line are the "heroes in this".

'Contact tracing of all cases started on Monday'

The minister outlines some of the work his department is doing on a test, trace, isolate and support strategy.

He says this is "designed to break the chain of transmission of the virus by identifying people with Covid-19, tracing people who have been in close contact with them and supporting those people to self-isolate".

Mr Swann says the chief medical officer has organised an oversight board "to bring all the key elements together".

He says support from the public will be "absolutely critical" to the success of the strategy as it will rely on citizens to report symptoms, be tested and to follow self-isolation advice.

The minister says taking part will be voluntary and that from Monday the authorities have been undertaking contact tracing "for all positive cases of Covid-19".

He says the strategy is based on a pilot plan which has been running since 27 April.

Covid testing
Getty Images

"Despite some slightly inaccurate reporting this morning we now firmly have moved beyond the pilot phase," the minister adds.

He says he expects the scheme to operate for the next year at least, adding that there are enough trained tracers in place to trace all confirmed cases.

In conclusion, Mr Swann says that a continued downward trend in the number of Covid-19 patients in critical care allowed the decision to be taken to reduce the escalation level to "low surge".

This led to the standing down of the Nightingale Hospital at Belfast City Hospital, allowing for the reintroduction of urgent surgery.

Almost 40% of care home residents tested

Robin Swann begins by thanking the chair of the committee for the opportunity to update them on Covid-19.

He wants to place on record during Mental Health Awareness Week his understanding of the hardship some families are going through due to the loss of loved ones due to Covid-19.

He says colleagues in his department are now working on developing the role for a mental health champion - something he discussed some weeks ago.

“Each Covid-19 patient in the community now infects less than one other individual,” he tells the committee - referring to the R rate.

Mr Swann says “we must not get too hung up on the language of statistics,” adding that behind each death-related figure is a loved one who is missed by their family.

The five-step plan announced last week took into account the “most up-to-date” scientific advice, says Mr Swann.

“The advice on shielding remains current,” says Mr Swann adding those who are should continue to do so unless advised otherwise.

“We are now starting the long journey back to something closer to normality, be assured we have not lost sight of those who have had to shield,” adds the minister.

Turning to care homes, Mr Swann says guidance was first issued in February and has been updated since.

Robin Swann
NI Assembly

The minister says that 4,950 residents, "almost 40% of our entire care home population", have now been tested for Covid-19.

He adds that 4,816 care home workers have now been tested, and "as of 09:00 this morning, 70 homes with confirmed outbreaks of Covid-19 with former 34 suspected or possible outbreaks".

Mr Swann adds that 35 care home have concluded Covid-19 outbreaks since the start of the pandemic.

Private International Law Bill

Justice Minister Naomi now moves a legislative consent motion (LCM) on the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill.

The LCM allows Westminster to legislate on behalf of Northern Ireland.

The bill covers commercial, insolvency and family law.

Mrs Long explains that the legislation cover matters such as, which country's court should hear a case, which country's law should apply to resolve it and whether the decisions of a foreign court should be recognised and enforced.

Naomi Long
NI Assembly

The bill will see the three Hague Conventions brought into domestic law.

Previously, the UK's participation in the conventions was tied up with its membership of the EU.

Legislation 'will give farmers certainty'

The UUP's Rosemary Barton (below) says the wet weather made life "particularly difficult for arable farmers".

She expresses her support for the legislation as it "will give farmers certainty".

John Blair of Alliance also backs the regulations.

Rosemary Barton
NI Assembly

He says "the clock is ticking" on considering how to proceed with support for farming following exit from the European Union.

The DUP's Paul Givan says there has been an even greater awareness of the importance of farming at this time owing to its place in the food chain.