Ex-health minister finds spike in Northern Ireland care home Covid outbreaks ‘extremely worrying’

Former health minister Jim Wells says it is “extremely worrying” that Covid outbreaks in care homes have spiked to 85.

Monday, 2nd August 2021, 6:30 am
Updated Monday, 2nd August 2021, 8:37 am

The rate of care home outbreaks has been in single figures since March but has risen sharply since mid-July.

Department of Health figures show a hugely disproportionate number of Covid-related deaths have taken place so far in care homes, which care for a tiny proportion of the overall population; 413 of their residents have died from Covid so far. By contrast 1,719 deaths have taken place in hospitals.

Mr Wells, whose wife Grace is currently in a care home, said: “This is an extremely worrying situation for those who have loved ones in care homes. It is also difficult to explain given the fact that almost all care home residents were vaccinated between December and February.”

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NI care homes currently have 85 Covid outbreaks.

The Commissioner for Older People Eddie Lynch said: “It is obviously concerning to see such a sharp increase in the number of Covid outbreaks in our care homes in recent weeks.

“We know how vulnerable care home residents are, but it appears that the vaccination programme has been very effective in reducing serious illness in older people living in these settings.

“However, we cannot be complacent and as a society we all need to be playing a role in trying to reduce the spread of Covid by continuing to follow public health advice.

“I would also appeal to those who can be vaccinated, but haven’t done so yet, to get their jabs as soon as possible to try to halt the latest surge in coronavirus infections.”

Official figures still show that the older a person is the more likely they are to be admitted to hospital if they catch Covid, with 19 current patients in their 40s, rising steadily to 57 patients aged 80 and over. However, the number of patients in their 20s is currently equal to the number in their 50s – 29.

Since January there has been a massive drop in the number of inpatients aged 50 and over. However, the number of inpatients aged 20-49 has increased by almost a similar proportion in the same period.

The Department of Health responded that Covid vaccines “offer very high levels of protection against serious illness”, and that two doses provide 70% protection against infection and 95% protection against severe disease.

The Department says early indications suggest vaccines do prevent transmission, but that they will never prevent all cases of infection. Therefore, the by now well-known preventative measures should still be followed until very high proportions of people are vaccinated.

“If you are instructed to self-isolate you must do so because there is still a risk that you might spread infection to others, even if you have been vaccinated and feel entirely well yourself,” a spokeswoman said. Getting vaccinated and taking preventative measures are the best approach until a high proportion of people are vaccinated, she added.

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