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Minister welcomes Rapid Learning Initiative report on care home pandemic experiences

Care homes remain at the front line of our battle against Covid-19, Health Minister Robin Swann has emphasised.

The Minister today welcomed the publication of his Department’s Rapid Learning Initiative (RLI) report on the experiences of care homes during the first surge of the Coronavirus pandemic.

He also spelt out the measures that have been put in place in Northern Ireland to support the sector.

“Covid-19 remains an active and significant threat to care homes. It is vital that the Health and Social Care system does everything it can to protect and support residents and staff.

“The Rapid Learning Initiative has identified 24 recommendations that will help inform our approach as we face into a potentially very difficult autumn and winter.

“Our care home sector was extremely fragile before the pandemic and the virus has exposed that. Northern Ireland is by no means unique in that regard. Covid-19 cruelly targets the oldest and most vulnerable citizens and care homes in many countries around the world have suffered devastating consequences.”

The Minister continued: “There are clearly important lessons to learn from experiences of the first surge. I welcome the Rapid Learning Initiative and the contribution it makes to our approach in the weeks and months ahead. My thanks go to everyone involved in this."

Support for the care home sector from the Health and Social Care system during the pandemic has included:

  • 35 million items of PPE to care homes, at a value of close to £12m;

  • More than 25,000 hours of staff time;

  • Financial support to assist with a range of additional cost pressures including additional cleaning, payment of sick pay to staff unable to attend work and the purchase of special equipment including equipment to facilitate contact between residents and relatives while minimising risk of transmission;

  • Free training and advice on Infection Prevention Control and resident care;

  • Comprehensive testing of staff and residents;

  • The provision of guidance on visiting.

The Rapid Learning Initiative brought together a wide range of stakeholders through both its Steering Group and four Subgroups who undertook the work of the RLI.

The Subgroups examined four key areas in care homes:

  • The experience of residents, staff and families in care homes;

  • Symptom monitoring and intervention and care planning;

  • Infection Prevention Control;

  • Physical distancing of residents (e.g. isolation, cohorting, visiting restrictions, staff turnover, footfall).

The Subgroups identified 24 recommendations within the following six themes that can be used to focus learning from the transmission of Covid-19 into care homes during the first surge to mitigate the impact on residents and staff of a potential second surge:

  • Technology: Leverage technology to keep people, knowledge and learning connected;

  • Information: Manage information and guidance to and from care homes more efficiently and effectively;

  • Medical support: Provide consistent medical support into the care homes;

  • Health and wellbeing: enhance the health and wellbeing interventions for residents, families and staff;

  • Safe and effective care: enhance safe and effective practices including access to training for care home staff;

  • Partnership; enhance partnership working across all organisations.

The Rapid Learning Initiative was headed by the Chief Nursing Officer, Professor Charlotte McArdle.

“I would like to extend my personal thanks to all those who provided their time and knowledge through membership of the groups that undertook or guided the work of the Rapid Learning Initiative or provided the underpinning data in the surveys,” the Chief Nursing Officer stated.

“My intention is that the partnerships that were built during this work will provide the foundations for increased collaboration as we go forward with other strategic work involving the care home sector, in particular this will include the work I am leading to develop a framework for enhancing clinical care pathways for care homes.”

A copy of the final report by the Task and Finish Group 'The Rapid Learning Initiative into the Transmission of Covid-19 into and within Care Homes in Northern Ireland' is available to download on the Department's website.

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