Owen Mor nursing home was among those impacted by COVID-19 - but information on deaths has not yet been made public
The government and health authorities in Northern Ireland have said they are still unable to confirm the number of COVID-19 deaths that have occurred in Derry care homes.
It is now over 90 days since the Public Health Agency published its first Coronavirus surveillance bulletin which included COVID-19 deaths and positive cases.
On April 13 the Derry News lodged a Freedom of Information request with the PHA asking for a breakdown of outbreaks and deaths in local care homes.
Under FOI legislation it has 20 working days to respond but nothing has been provided over two months later.
The PHA says staff who would normally deal with such requests ‘are involved in other duties’ because of COVID-19.
It has since emerged that the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) is the ‘official source’ for COVID-19 related deaths but it, nor any other organisation, is able to state how many deaths have occurred in care homes in each council area.
NISRA, the PHA, the Department of Health (DoH), health watchdog RQIA and the Western Trust have all been asked to provide figures for the number of care home deaths in Derry but say the information is not available despite detailed collation throughout the pandemic.
At a Western Trust media briefing on June 12 senior officials at the trust provided a comprehensive update on care home outbreaks but said details of care home deaths are not accessible.
Latest figures published by NISRA on June 19 show that the tragic COVID-19 death toll has risen to 802, up to the week ending June 12.
Of this total, 407 (50.7%) took place in hospital, 340 (42.3%) in care homes, eight (1.0%) in hospices and 47 (5.9%) at residential addresses or other locations.
The 348 deaths which occurred in care homes and hospices involved 78 separate establishments.
The comparative number of deaths reported daily by the Department of Health to June 12 was 540 – almost a third less than NISRA.
Further analysis, which includes deaths of care home residents in hospital shows that of the 412 deaths of care home residents involving COVID-19 in the year to date to June 12 2020, 82.5% (340) occurred in a care home, with the remaining 72 occurring in hospital.
On this basis, deaths of care home residents account for 51.4% of all COVID-19 related deaths.
NISRA has however noted that ‘no assumptions can be made’ in relation to where or when the deceased contracted the disease.
NISRA statistics also show that there have been 27 COVID-19 deaths in Derry and Strabane.
The council area has the second lowest number of positive COVID-19 cases with 177, according to DoH statistics.
At the beginning of the pandemic the PHA collated information around deaths and Coronavirus cases, based on data provided by NI health trusts.
It last published a daily report on April 19.
Since then the Department of Health NI has taken over responsibility for daily updates.
It experienced issues at the beginning and a dashboard the department launched was taken down because it contained an incorrect figure.
The nature of the error was never made public.
At the time the Derry News highlighted a mistake regarding Altnagelvin Hospital COVID-19 admissions before the dashboard was taken down and didn’t receive any explanation.
The Department of Health was then criticised by the UK statistics authority.
Director General for Regulation Ed Humpherson said information should be released in ‘a transparent, easily accessible and orderly way’.
The dashboard has improved with more detailed information throughout the crisis.
Concurrently, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) has been publishing weekly reports since April 10 based on death certificates where COVID-19 is mentioned.
Deaths in the community are included meaning the totals are considerably higher than the DoH statistics.
NISRA reports cover deaths from the week prior to publication.
These reports have become more complex as time has evolved to include a breakdown of total deaths for each council area.
However, statistics have never been broken down to show the number of people who have died in care homes in each council area.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “NISRA is the official source for statistics via their weekly bulletin regarding registered COVID-19 related deaths.
“At this stage the data is not available which could be used to provide a breakdown by setting in each local authority district.”
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