Arlene Foster: Ministers acutely aware of coronavirus crisis in care homes

Ministers are acutely aware of the coronavirus crisis facing care homes in Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster has said.

More than half of all Covid-19 deaths have occurred among frail and elderly care home residents.

Providers have previously voiced concern about the provision of personal protective equipment and staffing levels amid the pandemic.

Measures have been taken by the devolved administration in Belfast in response.

Stormont’s First Minister Mrs Foster told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: “If we have a low number of deaths in the first place, then understandably you are going to have a concentration where there are old and vulnerable people.

“We are very, very conscious of the difficulties in care homes.

“We will look back and there will be plenty of time to look back at how we dealt with this virus.”

She said Northern Ireland’s overall infection rate has been below that in England and Scotland because of a lower population density.

She added lockdown restrictions were introduced earlier in the disease’s spread in Northern Ireland.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Stormont health minister Robin Swann has boosted funding for care homes amid the pandemic (Niall Carson/PA)</figcaption>
Stormont health minister Robin Swann has boosted funding for care homes amid the pandemic (Niall Carson/PA)

Stormont health minister Robin Swann has announced £6.5 million in additional funding for care homes and expanded testing in those facilities.

The money is intended to help homes increase the level of cleaning and bring in any additional staff required to support the isolation of residents.

Mrs Foster said care home leaders will recognise what the Department of Health has done to help, as she cautioned everyone is grappling with a novel virus.

“We are dealing with this without a rule book,” she said.

Care home residents account for 53% of all coronavirus-related deaths in Northern Ireland, official statistics show.

Of the 380 care home resident deaths in the year to May 22, 84% (318) occurred in their facility, with the remaining 62 taking place in hospital.

The Department of Health has said there are 69 active care home outbreaks and 52 clusters have been closed.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Clifton Nursing Home in Belfast was recently ordered to close (Liam McBurney/PA)</figcaption>
Clifton Nursing Home in Belfast was recently ordered to close (Liam McBurney/PA)

Clifton Nursing Home in Belfast was ordered to close recently after the watchdog Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority raised concerns about how it was handling coronavirus.

Mrs Foster also defended Northern Ireland’s manual contact tracing system, which is following up about 30 positive cases a day.

Apps are expected to be used in the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain which are not compatible with each other, posing challenges for a country like Northern Ireland.

The DUP leader said: “We are making good progress.”

College graduates, doctors and nurses have been recruited for up to two years to help in the process.

She added: “It is forming the corner stone of coming out of lockdown and being able to relax these regulations.”