Northern Ireland Executive ministers and their officials have over the past 24 hours been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.
A strategic framework for the future of the health and social care system was published today by the Health Minister Robin Swann in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ‘Strategic Framework for Rebuilding Health and Social Care Services’ was accompanied by the publication of plans by the six health trusts on the immediate scaling up of services in the period to 30 June.
A new Management Board for Rebuilding Health and Social Care Services is also being established, consisting of senior Department of Health officials, Trust chief executives and other Health and Social Care leaders.
Minister Swann observed: “Our health and social care system was in very serious difficulties long before Coronavirus reached these shores. The virus has taken the situation to a whole new level. The Health and Social Care system has had its own lockdown – services were scaled back substantially to keep people safe and to focus resources on caring for those with Covid-19. As we emerge from the first wave of the pandemic, it is no easy task to build services back up to pre-existing levels.”
Praising health and social care staff for their response to the pandemic, the Minister said he was keen to build on the many examples of excellence, innovation and commitment.
He added: “I don’t want to simply restore the health and social system to the way it was at the beginning of 2020. That would do a disservice to our great staff and the people of Northern Ireland. I honestly believe we can make it better. That will require patience, careful planning, sustained investment and collective support – not just around the Executive table but across society as a whole.”
A £15.5 million fund to help local charities facing financial difficulties as a result of the Covid-19 health emergency will open on Monday 15 June, it was announced by the Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey.
The funding programme will financially support charities that have lost income and are unable to cover unavoidable costs until September 30th 2020.
With up to £75,000 available for eligible organisations, it will be administered on behalf of the Department for Communities by The National Lottery Community Fund.
Minister Hargey said: “The Covid-19 Charities Fund is proposed as a fund of last resort. There is a limited amount of money in the fund and it, therefore, is available for those charitable organisations who can demonstrate that they have lost income due to the impact of Covid-19 and will be unable to cover unavoidable costs until the end of September 2020. As we continue to respond to the Covid-19 emergency, I want to thank the local charity sector for the crucial and important role they play in supporting thousands of people across our community.”
An initiative to encourage parents to read with their babies and young children was launched by the Education Minister Peter Weir.
The Bookstart programme, run by the UK’s largest children’s reading charity BookTrust and partly funded in Northern Ireland by the Department of Education, will provide books to families with very young children to encourage positive home learning environments from an early age.
Acknowledging the difficulties being faced by new parents during the Covid-19 crisis and the benefits of providing books directly to families, Minister Weir said: “It is recognised that many new parents may not have access to the same support networks during this very difficult period, or access to books for their children due to libraries being closed. Encouraging a love of reading in children from an early age is important to the development of their social and communication skills. Small steps, like reading to your child at night, can have a very positive lifelong effect in a whole range of areas.”
It is anticipated that book packs will be delivered to around 24,000 families with young children this year.