13 Aug 2022

CORONAVIRUS LATEST: Health watchdog unable to confirm deaths in care homes

CORONAVIRUS LATEST: Health watchdog unable to confirm deaths in care homes

RQIA has ceased inspections of care homes amid the coronavirus pandemic

The health watchdog for NI has said it cannot provide information pertaining to coronavirus outbreaks or deaths in Derry care homes despite legislation stating that it should be notified.

RQIA is the independent health and social care regulator in Northern Ireland which aims to assure public confidence in health and social care through its ‘independent, proportionate and responsible regulation.’

Public pressure has been mounting for health authorities to provide records of the number of coronavirus-related deaths occurring in care homes.

Northern Ireland has 484 care homes with approximately 16,000 beds.  Derry has around 20 nursing/residential care homes.

Earlier this week Health Minister Robin Swann confirmed that 32 care homes were now affected by coronavirus.

At the end of February COVID-19 became a notifiable disease and in line with regulations services were required to advise RQIA of outbreaks - 2 or more cases - of a disease, any deaths within the service and also incidents of a notifiable disease at a service. 

However, along with the Public Health Agency (PHA) which records all details of outbreaks in care settings, it has been unable to provide a breakdown of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Derry care homes.

An RQIA spokesperson said death certification is needed before it can provide any details of deaths in care homes.

But he didn’t elaborate when asked why that process would take any longer for a COVID death in a care setting - considering the first COVID deaths in care homes are known to have taken place weeks ago - as opposed to hospital fatalities which have been reported on a daily basis.

The spokesperson explained that as part of the Health and Social Care (HSC) response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to minimise the risk of spreading infection to the most vulnerable people in society, the Department of Health has directed RQIA to step down its regular inspection programme. 

This is consistent with the approach of health and social care regulators across the UK and Ireland.

The health watchdog sought to assure the public that where it has any ‘specific safety concerns’ it will not hesitate to conduct inspections.

An RQIA spokesperson said: “During this time RQIA is the seven day a week single point of contact for care homes and domiciliary care agencies, supporting these services to make risk-assessed and evidence-based decisions using their professional judgement and their knowledge and understanding of the people in their care. 

“RQIA’s team of inspectors are providing this dedicated service seven days a week from 8am to 6pm daily (including over the Easter holiday period).

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic RQIA has responded to hundreds of queries from providers who are working under immense pressures to deliver safe, effective and compassionate care to everyone living in these homes in line with the latest guidance.”

He added: “While services are required to notify RQIA of all deaths in their homes, these notifications are often received in advance of death certification and in the absence of confirmed results of a COVID-19 test it is not possible to provide details of the deaths in care homes. 

“As part of its role, the Public Health Agency records details of all outbreaks of disease (including Covid-19) in care homes, and provides additional support to these services. 

“The safety and wellbeing of everyone in receipt of health and social care services across Northern Ireland is of paramount importance to RQIA, and we continue to monitor every service to ensure their management arrangements are robust and in the best interests of those who are receiving care.”

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