The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch, today called for all residents and staff of care homes throughout Northern Ireland to be tested for Covid-19 as a matter of urgency to help monitor the spread of the virus and to help to better protect older people living in these settings and the staff who care for them.

Eddie Lynch said:

"For many weeks now I have been calling for stronger and swifter action from authorities to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society, those living in care homes.

"Whilst I recognise that progress has been made to increase testing in care homes, I believe that there needs to be a step change in who should be getting tested. In recent times, government has announced that only those residents showing symptoms are being tested, as well as any new residents being moved from a hospital to a care home. However, whilst patients leaving hospital are being tested, the results are not always known before they are discharged into nursing homes.

"I believe that we need to go much further than this and I call on the authorities to move to testing all care home residents and all the staff who are doing the vital, caring and nursing jobs in the most challenging of circumstances.

"The recent publication of coronavirus death statistics has highlighted just how vulnerable older people are, with almost 70% of deaths in Northern Ireland being in the 75 and over age range.

"Universal testing will identify outbreaks earlier, providing authorities and care providers with more information which enable them to respond to the situation, reduce contagion and save lives.

"I welcome the announcements in the past few days that the predicted number of fatalities has been revised down significantly and it appears that the public’s response to government advice is making a real difference. It is an illustration of the huge impact of the excellent work undertaken by our doctors, nurses, social care workers and everyone else in the health and social care service at this challenging time. Their work has clearly saved countless lives and we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

"This will have provided extra capacity from elsewhere in the health service to provide extra support to the care home sector at this critical time, and a major increase in testing in care homes has to be at the forefront of this.

"Every step must be taken now to protect our older people living in care homes. Government must respond as a matter of urgency and prioritise the most vulnerable, and universal testing must be part of that action plan.”