At least 41 Covid-19 deaths reported in Northern Ireland care homes and hospices

At least 41 people have died from Covid-19 in care homes and hospices in Northern Ireland.

The figure represents around a quarter of the overall tally and involves 23 separate establishments, official statistics up to earlier this month showed.

Dr Tom Black, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) in the country, said residents often have other underlying illnesses which leave them at greater risk.

“It is distressing for anyone to lose a family member due to Covid-19, whether that is in a hospital, care home, hospice or family home, but we need to get a clear picture of how our population is being affected as this will help us plan our services in the most effective way,” he said.

“Unfortunately, most people in care homes will be at greater risk of coronavirus as they will generally have co-morbidities, which means they have more than one illness, and this increases their risk from the virus as their overall health is poorer.

“Care home residents will also frequently have in place an advance care plan where they and their family have had the chance to discuss with their GP and others involved in their care what sort of treatment they would like at the end of their life.”

Concerns have been expressed by staff and relatives of residents about the situation in care homes.

Dr Black strongly encouraged families with a loved one in a home to agree with them what to do during end-of-life care.

“It is much easier to do this in advance than when under pressure to take a decision about what interventions you want undertaken.

“In general, it wouldn’t be appropriate to transfer someone who is at the end of their life to hospital to allow them to die in hospital if that isn’t medically necessary.”

He said measures are being put in place for geriatricians to go out to care homes to advise on and supervise care.

Residential home staff are linking in with hospital teams to ensure residents are receiving the best palliative care.

Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann has said he wants to reassure people that relatives are receiving the support and care they need.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “We know that older people are particularly susceptible to the devastating effects of Covid-19, and our care homes are very vulnerable at this time.”

Trade union Unison this week said its members who work in care homes are reporting inadequate supplies of personal protective equipment.

Regional secretary Patricia McKeown said: “Recording these deaths is important, but preventing them is absolutely vital.

“We need answers as to how health authorities are going to protect vulnerable people in care homes, residential homes and in the community.

“Our members have a right to know what plan there is to increase testing, contact tracing and ensure the right methods are used to self-isolate those known or suspected cases.”