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Committee Releases Report into Impact of COVID-19 in Care Homes

The Assembly's Health Committee yesterday launched its Report on its Inquiry into the Impact of COVID-19 in Care Homes with a debate in the Assembly Chamber.

In July 2020, the Committee agreed to look at the impact that COVID-19 had on care homes and their residents in order to learn from recent experience and to provide constructive suggestions for the future.

As part of the Inquiry, the Committee held formal and informal evidence sessions with stakeholders, including the Department of Health, trade unions, representatives from the care home sector and the families of those living in care homes. In addition, 691 care home residents, their families and care home providers completed an online survey on the issues brought about by COVID-19.

Colm Gildernew MLA, Chairperson of the Committee yesterday said,

"Many of the issues that we looked at - from staff terms and conditions, workforce shortages, funding and regulation - brought the wider question of adult social care reform into sharp focus.

"There was virtual consensus on a number of significant points in relation to pandemic planning, from acknowledgement of pre-existing workforce shortages to initial problems with the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing capacity.

"It comes as no surprise that COVID-19 put an extra strain on the care sector's funding with additional costs for staffing, cleaning, PPE and support for visiting. We are keen to see processes streamlined and made more flexible, enabling care homes to meet their own particular needs.

"We were also struck by the impact that visiting restrictions had on the physical and mental wellbeing of those living in care homes, the importance of ensuring meaningful contact and the limits of virtual visiting for those with sensory or cognitive impairment."

The Report makes a number of recommendations for any future pandemic planning, including learning from international best practice and ensuring that guidance and initiatives are developed in coordination with care homes, rather than in isolation.

Colm Gildernew concluded,

"I am particularly pleased that all stakeholders, including the Department, positively engaged with the Committee. We know what needs to be done, both now and in the future. Adult social care reform has never been more urgent. Our recommendations were agreed unanimously by the Committee and we believe they constitute a real contribution to future pandemic planning and management."

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