As the number of deaths continue to rise at care homes in Northern Ireland, Julieann McNally from the Dunmurry Manor Support Group has called for a public inquiry to establish the truth behind the grim figures and asks were adequate measures adopted to protect the vulnerable residents?
Her call comes as the latest figures on coronavirus reveal that in one week 62 percent of deaths occurred in care homes.
Ms McNally became prominent in news stories after she criticised the treatment of her late grandmother Annie McCourt at Dunmurry Manor care home in 2016. The abuse at the care homes led to a major report by the Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch, in June 2018.
“We were very concerned in early March this year in relation to the spread of coronavirus in care homes in Northern Ireland,” said Ms McNally.
“For many years care homes here have hit the headlines for the wrong reasons.
“There are some very good care homes in Northern Ireland but there are far too many care homes that are not providing safe and dignified care on a consistent basis.
“Sadly, even if we did have 100 percent safe and dignified care homes, we have a regulator, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Service (RQIA), that we believe is not fit for purpose.
‘We believe, as a support group, that there was little or no planning for care homes in Northern Ireland’
“The RQIA have been criticised in the past for being too slow to act during the many examples of substandard care in Northern Ireland. This also includes Muckamore Abbey. The evidence shows that the RQIA were aware of a large number of substantiated abuse cases in Muckamore as early as 2014.
“The RQIA are described as an independent body even though the vast majority of their funding is from the Department of Health.
“The RQIA are supposed to regulate and improve health trusts and private companies. When the Commissioner for Older People, Eddie Lynch, investigated Dunmurry Manor he faced a difficult time getting responses from the health trusts and RQIA. The reason for this was that the Department of Health provided all the responses for the health trusts and RQIA. They are all, essentially, the one family.
“The RQIA were given powers in 2003 to carry out investigations and report back to the Department of Health. To date, they have carried out no investigations.
“On February 27, 2020, Northern Ireland Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride said: “Our health service is well used to dealing with such infections and I want to reassure the public that we are prepared.” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-51665704)
“We believe, as a support group, that there was little or no planning for care homes in Northern Ireland.
“On March 27, this year, Olive Macleod was named interim Chief Executive of the Public Health Agency. During her previous role as the Chief Executive of the RQIA, the regulatory body was heavily criticised after NI’s Commissioner for Older People Eddie Lynch found a “horrific catalogue of inhuman and degrading treatment” at Dunmurry Manor Care Home. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-44472402
“Mr Lynch said the RQIA had not taken sufficient action.
“Ms Macleod refused to meet with our group after the Dunmurry Manor report was released in June 2018. (https://www.copni.org/media/1478/copni-home-truths-report-web-version.pdf)
“On February 20, 2020 the Public Health Agency had a board meeting. They discussed Covid-19 at length. Care homes were not mentioned once at the meeting. (https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/sites/default/files/2020-04/PHA%20Board%20Meeting%20Minutes%20-%2020%20February%202020.pdf)
“In March 19, 2020, the PHA had a board meeting. Again they discussed Covid-19 at length. And once again, care homes were not mentioned once at this meeting. (https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/sites/default/files/2020-04/PHA%20Board%20Meeting%20Minutes%20-%2019%20March%202020.pdf)
At the health committee meeting at Stormont on May 7, MLA Gerry Carroll asked Olive Macleod what planning and preparation was done by her organisation in January and February for care homes. She replied by saying that in December they were given winter flu information packs. It is our understanding that winter flu packs and winter pressure packs are given to care homes between August and October.
“In a previous health committee meeting in April Ms Macleod said that 500 people have been recruited for contact tracing. She had to admit at the meeting on May 7 at Stormont that she had misspoken and that this had not taken place.
“We hold that the view that little or no planning has been done for care homes.
“Some care staff have hit out saying they can’t afford to be off sick because they only get Statutory Sick Pay. We believe that extra monies should have been made available to care home staff who are off sick or who have had to self isolate.
“The RQIA have also said they have reduced inspections since the pandemic hit Northern Ireland.
The British Social Workers Association told the health committee last week that social workers have stopped going into care homes since the coronavirus outbreak.
“We believe that there has been inadequate monitoring of care homes during the pandemic.
“We are also concerned that care homes are being run with inadequate staff numbers due to illness and exhaustion
“Are adequate cleaning duties being carried out given the possible reduction in staff numbers?
“We also have grave concerns about possible abuse safeguarding issues since attention has been diverted to dealing with the Covid 19 outbreak.
“We know, that since all visits by relatives have been stopped since the pandemic struck, the virus is not being spread from anyone not employed by the care homes.
“Nobody can know for sure if care is failing or PPE is not being followed because the RQIA have reduced their inspections. The inspections should have been increased. It should have been obvious that care homes would have been a huge risk for the outbreak of Covid-19 cases if all the protection measures were not being done.
“We feel that this could become a worse scandal than RHI.
“And remember that no one lost their lives as a result of RHI.
“But many residents have died in our care homes since this virus arrived.
“We demand a public inquiry is set up to find out the truth and to determine if we have failed, once again, the most vulnerable in our society.”