UNISON Northern Ireland



Today (16th April) UNISON is demanding that health and social care authorities in Northern Ireland take immediate action to address alarming issues and prevent the spread of Covid-19 across care homes, residential homes and when care is provided to people in their own homes. UNISON Regional Secretary, Patricia McKeown said:


''Northern Ireland has had an integrated health and social care system for decades. It has the potential to be one of the best but we all know that the social care part of that system has long been starved of resources and treated as the poor relation.  


When Covid-19 hit us, older people were immediately identified as one of the groups in greatest danger and in need of special protection. Yet remarkably it appears that older people living in care homes and residential homes, and the UNISON members providing care for them, have been left to the last. We are demanding urgent answers as to why this has taken place.


Covid-19 has now been confirmed in 32 of our care homes, but we suspect in reality it is much more widespread than that.


On 23 March UNISON was pressing the Department of Health to pay special attention to Care Homes and to social care in the community, particularly in the light of the experience in Italy. We pressed for the resumption of community testing, tracking and isolation. We pressed for PPE for all residential care and social care workers. 


Alarmingly we know that on 26 March the Department of Health instructed the RQIA to stop routine inspecting in care homes. We have major concerns about the absence of such inspections at a time when we know these homes are struggling to deal with Covid-19. We demand immediate answers as to how the situation across all care homes is being independently monitored and inspected, to protect residents and workers alike.


It has become clear that deaths related to Covid-19 in care homes and in the community were not being reported. We note that the Health Minister has announced that these deaths will be reported in future, but this must be done now so that our members and the public can fully understand how this disease is spreading and hold the authorities to account as to how they are stopping it. 


Our members have reported that residents discharged from hospital back to care homes and back into the community were not being tested across all Trusts. This must be done as a matter of urgency. 


Recording these deaths is important, but preventing them is absolutely vital. We need answers as to how health authorities are going to protect vulnerable people in care homes, residential homes and in the community. Our members have a right to know what plan there is to increase testing, contact tracing and ensure the right methods are used to self-isolate those known or suspected cases.


Our members are still reporting inadequate supplies of PPE. Updated guidance on the use of PPE within social care must be published and implemented without delay, with all issues regarding delays in the supply of PPE addressed. 


Much more needs to be done to increase the level of testing for all workers in social care. There can be no barriers to testing staff and no hierarchy of testing. Solutions need to be found urgently to ensure that all staff can access the vital testing that is needed to protect them and those they care for.


Our members cannot wait any longer for these issues to be resolved. We are demanding that action be taken now to:


  •       temporarily relocate care home residents to safe, infection-free accommodation;
  •       to provide Covid-19 only facilities with extra staff support for those who do not need hospital admission;
  •       to ensure adequate levels of trained staff in all facilities, with the necessary levels of protective equipment in place;
  •       to implement comprehensive contact tracing and testing of suspected cases in staff and residents. 


All our politicians and those who run the health service have offered warm words of support and praise for our health and social care workers every Thursday night for the last several weeks, but they need much more than that. They need to know that they and the people they care for will be protected and that everything will be done to halt the spread of Covid-19. We are demanding answers and action now.''




Notes to editors:


For further information, please contact:


Patricia McKeown: 07802539096

Anne Speed: 07904427133

John Patrick Clayton: 07508080386

UNISON Centre: 02890270190