The High Court in England ruled today that discharging hospital patients into care homes at the start of the pandemic undermined Government claims that a “protective ring” was put in place for the most vulnerable.
In early 2020, patients were rapidly discharged into care homes without testing, despite the risk of asymptomatic transmission, with Government documents showing there was no requirement for this until mid-April.
The Commissioner for Older People in NI, Eddie Lynch, said he believed the ruling strengthens the need for a NI specific public inquiry.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, I heard of many instances where families were concerned about the discharge of Covid positive patients into care homes here,” he said.
“At the time, I called on the health authorities to act to protect our care homes and vulnerable residents. It is easy for us to forget how terrifying the first few months of the pandemic were for everyone, but there are a range of issues that need to be looked at, where I believe, the safety and protection of older residents in care homes may have been compromised.”
He says an inquiry should look at how care home deaths were reported, families’ access to loved ones, personal protective equipment supply problems, potential misuse of do not attempt resuscitation orders and the pace of testing residents and staff.
He added: “I want to ensure that we understand what happened and that we use the findings of a care home public inquiry to embed learning and improve planning, should we need to act against new variants of concern or another pandemic in the future.”
His call comes after an NI pressure group published an open letter this week to all Northern Ireland Assembly candidates, calling for them to prioritise a NI Covid inquiry.
The group, Covid 19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said they would not be satisfied for NI to be included as part of a UK-wide inquiry.
“In Northern Ireland over 4085 people are grieving the loss of a loved one to Covid 19,” the letter said. “Our loved ones, whose lives were cut short in the course of the pandemic, will not be able to vote in the coming elections. They won’t be able to make sure that the mistakes of the past are never repeated in Northern Ireland. If love could have saved them, they would never have left us. But they are gone, and through our grief we will fight to ensure that no other families suffer the heartbreak we have.”
They added: “We aren’t asking for financial compensation, or to apportion blame. We, as you surely do, simply believe that the lives of our loved ones’ are just as important as the lives of those lost in other parts of the UK. Our mothers, fathers, children and partners deserve to be more than a footnote in a four nation inquiry. They mattered so much more than that.
“That is why, when you come to knock on our doors and ask for our vote, we expect to hear not just consolation for our losses, but the promise that you and your party will prioritise an Northern Ireland inquiry into the handling of the pandemic in the next administration.”