Northern Ireland Executive Ministers and their officials have over the past 72 hours been involved in a number of initiatives and critical decisions relating to the Coronavirus emergency.
Health Minister Robin Swann today allocated an additional £6.5 million for Northern Ireland’s care homes, as part of a series of measures to support the sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A further expansion of testing was also announced, along with the publication of updated guidance for care homes aimed at strengthening infection prevention and control and protecting residents.
As a result of the measures:
– Testing will be carried out on all staff and residents in care homes when a home is identified to the Health Protection team in the Public Health Agency as having had a potential outbreak or a cluster of infections. The previous approach was to test staff and residents displaying symptoms.
– All patients being discharged from acute hospital care to a care home are to be tested 48 hours prior to discharge. In addition, all patients/residents being transferred into a care home from any setting, whether from hospital, supported living or directly from their own home, will be tested 48 hours prior to admission to the care home. This will help the staff to understand each resident’s status and to plan their care effectively.
– All patients discharged from hospitals into care homes – whether they have tested negative or not – should also be subject to isolation for 14 days.
– All care homes will be asked to make sure they check residents and staff twice a day for symptoms of coronavirus. Symptoms in care home residents can be atypical so increased vigilance is critical.
– All Health Trusts will work with care homes in their local area to ensure that each home has a buffer of PPE stock.
– Health and Social Care Trusts will continue to work in partnership with care home providers to help deal with staff shortages. Where people have responded to the NHS Workforce Appeal, those with the right skills will be prioritised for deployment with independent care home providers. Trust staff have already been redeployed to care homes and will continue to be.
– New guidance is also available for the care home sector on the use of PPE, testing for staff and residents, staff redeployment and caring for residents in a care home setting. The guidance also sets out a new approach to managing discharges from hospital.
– Under the support package, care homes will receive a payment of £10k, £15k or £20k – depending on their size – to help them increase the level of cleaning undertaken and bring in additional staff needed to help support the isolation of residents when this necessary.
– A new model for care homes, ‘Safe at Home’ will also be piloted, with the Department of Health working closely with a small number of homes to test an enhanced approach to care delivery and to help learn lessons that can be rolled out more widely, including supporting staff to live in a care home.
Minister Swann said: “It is vital that we continue to support care homes and their staff to keep themselves, and the vulnerable people they care for, safe and well. The revised guidance published today provides up to date advice on how to do that.”
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon announced changes to the process for major planning applications during the Covid-19 emergency, temporarily removing the requirement to hold a public event as part of the pre-application community consultation.
The changes, which come into effect on 1 May, will apply for five months and will be accompanied by guidance for applicants suggesting alternatives to this important element of the consultation process.
Applicants will still need to comply with other requirements to ensure communities are aware of and can input to major development proposals for their areas.
Noting the planning system had a critical role in supporting future economic and societal recovery, Minister Mallon insisted: “Public participation remains an important part of the planning process and to ensure that this is not compromised I will be publishing advice and guidance on appropriate measures to replace face to face public events, such as on-line engagement. This will ensure that pre-application public participation in the planning process can continue during the emergency period and will facilitate a more consistent approach across the 11 Council areas.”
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey announced funding of £1.5 million to support individuals and organisations in the arts sector during the pandemic.
The Creative Support Fund has been established to provide financial support for a diverse range of performing artists and community art organisations who have lost work as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.
Individuals can apply for funding of up to £5,000 to take new and innovative approaches in continuing to provide their talents and services to audiences – particularly those who normally face barriers to the arts.
Small and medium sized organisations will be able to apply for maximum funding of £25,000 to help them develop new projects or programmes or re-arrange events which have had to be cancelled during the Covid-19 period.