Coronavirus: Universal testing for care homes in NI by June
May. 18, 2020
Testing will be made available to all care home staff and residents by next month, the health minister has said.
Robin Swann said testing would be extended to all residents from June, with a rolling staff testing programme also put in place.
Almost half of the 599 coronavirus-related deaths in NI recorded by Nisra have happened in care homes.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill is among those who have called for universal testing in NI care homes .
There have been 137 confirmed or suspected Covid-19 outbreaks in care homes across Northern Ireland, according to figures from the Department of Health.
Mr Swann said testing in the sector was "easier to demand than to deliver".
"It has always been my intention to over-deliver rather than to over-promise," he said.
"Following detailed planning and preparatory work, I can now confirm that testing will be available to all residents and staff."
At the moment, care home staff and their relatives in Northern Ireland can be tested if they have Covid-19 symptoms.
Residents and staff in care homes where there is a suspected outbreak are also tested or if they are new entrants to the care home sector.
In the Republic of Ireland, testing of all care home staff and residents is expected to be completed this week.
Expansion of testing
The Department of Health estimates it will have completed testing of all residents by next month.
It said that to date, based on provisional figures, it has tested around 25% of residents (3,762).
The expansion of testing is being facilitated with the use of "satellite operations" from the three national testing sites in Northern Ireland, and mobile testing units used as part of the national testing programme, the department added.
Image copyright PAcemaker Image caption Health Minister Robin Swann has said there are "human rights considerations" around testing elderly residents of care homes
Existing healthcare workers currently carrying out the tests are to be supported from next week with the addition of testing capability from the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, and up to 40 nurses from the Health and Social Care system.
The department has said further details of staff testing will be provided at a future date.
'Human rights considerations'
Mr Swann said there were a number of "important sensitivities" to be considered in rolling out the testing, specifically around consent.
"There are human rights considerations where residents may not consent to be tested or may not be able to consent - for reasons such as dementia," he said.
"The swab test for Covid-19 can be an unpleasant and intrusive process, so there are also issues in relation to subjecting frail older persons to swabbing, particularly in homes where there are no outbreaks.
"I am confident a way forward will be found on these issues, in close consultation with care home staff, residents and their family members."
However, the Alliance Party's health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw said Mr Swann should put a more precise timeline on the testing plans.
"No one is suggesting the minister has an easy job at present, but he needs to recognise that serious mistakes have been made with regard to care homes, and to rectify them with greater urgency than 'next month'."
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