Up to 16,000 Northern Ireland nursing home residents at risk from coronavirus

Up to 16,000 nursing home residents in potential “petri dishes” of infection are at risk unless immediate coronavirus testing begins, healthcare workers in Northern Ireland have said.

A total of 20 care homes have cases of Covid-19, Stormont health minister Robin Swann said, and trade unionists warned they were particularly vulnerable.

Unison union regional secretary Patricia McKeown represents workers in the sector and said they have the least personal protective equipment and the most exposure.

She said: “We are calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to make immediate additional resources available to the entire sector in the form of a dedicated testing programme, and revised guidance for healthcare workers in the homes and in community care with additional personal protective equipment as standard.”

She said the vulnerable elderly population also needs protection.

“Our care homes have up to 16,000 residents, all at risk.

“The homes have the potential to become petri dishes for the virus unless immediate testing, isolation and tracking commences.”

Ms McKeown called for reassurance on how the risk of transmission within homes is being reduced.

“We will not accept any delays in providing the right personal protective equipment to workers in our care homes.

“Employers, our health trusts and the Department of Health must ensure all care homes are properly supplied.

“Social care in the community and in nursing home settings cannot be the poor relation when it comes to protecting service-users and workers.”

Health minister Robin Swann said extra protective equipment is arriving and there is no reason why homes should not have access to it.