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.
Testing for Covid-19 in the care home sector is to be significantly expanded, Health Minister Robin Swann announced today.
The decision to increase testing was one of a series of measures announced by the Minister, including plans to provide more specialist support to homes from across the health and social care system.
Minister Swann also announced he will be bringing forward reform and investment plans to strengthen resilience in the social care sector, subject to Executive approval.
The Minister explained: “As an early priority, I want to see training and terms and conditions for care home staff being standardised and improved. We will have to ensure that the return on this investment will be to the benefit of staff and residents, not the profit margins for operators. That means a decent wage, access to some form of sick pay, a career pathway and training to do the job safely and well. I accept that many providers already provide this. In the future, we must ensure that all do.
“Many people, myself included, struggle to understand why some private sector care homes have been unable to pay staff sick pay during this pandemic while others have been able to do so. Likewise, I wonder how some manage to pay a living wage while others only provide the minimum wage. And, as we move through this pandemic phase, I am sure other differences will emerge between how different providers responded.”
The expansion of testing in care homes is being informed by advice being prepared for the UK Government and the NHS by SAGE (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) and the Department of Health’s Strategic Intelligence group (SIG).
The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service has this week started to provide a mobile testing service for care homes. In addition, up to 40 nurses from the HSC are being deployed to support testing in care homes. It has also been recommended by the Department’s Advisory Group on Testing and agreed by the Minister that testing will be extended into supported living.
Homes are also being asked to check staff and residents twice a day for symptoms, including temperature - recognising that symptoms in care home residents may be atypical.
Outreach teams will also deliver specialist care and support to older people in care homes and their own homes, working in partnership with GPs, district nurses, Allied Health Professionals and social care colleagues.
The recovery of benefit overpayments and loan repayments from a number of Social Security benefits are to be paused for three months during the Covid-19 outbreak, the Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey revealed today.
Overpayment and loan deductions will cease from the following benefits:
- Universal Credit;
- Attendance Allowance;
- Carer’s Allowance;
- Disability Living Allowance;
- Employment Support Allowance;
- Industrial Injuries Benefit;
- Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit;
- Income Support;
- Jobseeker's Allowance;
- Maternity Allowance;
- Pension Credit;
- Personal Independence Payment;
- State Pension;
- Widow’s Parents Allowance; and
- Widow's Pension Allowance.
Many activities will cease immediately but others may take longer to implement. The recovery of all Social Fund and Discretionary Support loans will be suspended.
Minister Hargey said: “This suspension of debt recovery activity will provide financial easement to people with benefit overpayment-related debt or an outstanding loan balance. The change means many people will see an increase in the amount of money they receive in benefits during these three months.”
Customers currently making repayments through a Bank Standing Order may contact their bank to cancel their arrangement. However, this will need to be set up again following the pause period.
For customers repaying through other means, the Department has written to employers asking them to stop deductions from salaries. All recoveries by Direct Debit will also be suspended for three months.
Notes to editors:
- The Northern Ireland Executive is producing a regular digest of key initiatives and decisions that have been undertaken by ministers and their Departments relating to the Coronavirus crisis.
- Members of the public are encouraged to check regularly the Public Health Agency, NI Direct, NI Executive and government departmental websites and social media channels for public health advice on how to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 Coronavirus.
- The Coronavirus: Executive Approach to Decision-Making document, which outlines how the Executive is approaching key decisions relating to Covid-19 restrictions on society, is available on The Executive Office website - www.executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk/publications/coronavirus-executive-approach-decision-making
- Current information and advice in relation to Covid-19 can be found on the PHA website at: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus.
- Patients who have a persistent cough, or high temperature, together with any other members of their household must self-isolate according to the guidance on the PHA website at: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus#what-should-i-do-if-i-think-i-have-coronavirus.
- The Department of Health NI has launched a new Covid-19 NI information app to provide people with immediate advice and links to vital trusted information. The app will be updated as the pandemic evolves. Download the Covid-19 NI app - search for Covid-19 NI on the Apple app store and Covid-19 NI on google play.
- The online version of the app is hosted on a new website https://covid-19.hscni.net.
- A Covid-19 statistical dash board can also be viewed on the Department of Health’s website at: https://app.powerbi.com/view?r=eyJrIjoiMWFhZDgzZDYtMTE4Yi00MTBjLWIzYmQtMTZhYzc1MGEyMTk1IiwidCI6IjljOWEzMGRlLWQ4ZDctNGFhNC05NjAwLTRiZTc2MjVmZjZjNSIsImMiOjh9.
- The Framework for the Wellbeing of Health and Social Care staff can be accessed at the following link: www.publichealth.hscni.net/sites/default/files/2020-04/HSC_Regional%20Staff%20Wellbeing%20Framework.pdf and is based on evidence and best practice guidance and is informed by The British Psychological Society Guidance Paper.
- Psychological Support Help Lines will be staffed by psychologists and psychological therapists who can provide appropriate support throughout the surge phase of the crisis.
- The Helplines will be made available by each Trust to all their staff, to all GP Practices in their area, to all Ambulance staff based in their area and to all independent sector care providers in their area. In this way support is offered to all parts of the system throughout surge.
- The Framework document is supported by resources which are available on the PHA website: www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus/guidance-hsc-staff/staff-health-and-wellbeing.
- If you are in distress or despair at any time including the Covid-19 crisis, the 24/7 Lifeline helpline is available on 0808 808 8000 where trained counsellors are available to help you.
- Updated guidance for care homes is available on DoH website at: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/covid-19-guidance-nursing-and-residential-care-homes-northern-ireland
- Anyone wishing to volunteer for health and social care support roles can do so via: www.hscworkforceappeal.co.uk/.
- The Freephone Covid-19 Community Helpline can be accessed by telephone on 0808 802 0020; email firstname.lastname@example.org or text ACTION to 81025. It is available 7 days a week, 9am to 5pm.
- Statistics on weekly deaths registered in Northern Ireland can be accessed on NISRA’s website at: https://www.nisra.gov.uk/publications/weekly-deaths.
- Volunteer Now has launched a new online campaign #HelpEachOther for those who wish to volunteer for COVID-19 related opportunities and for those organisations which require the support of volunteers to deliver their services to the most in need. Further information is available at: www.volunteernow.co.uk.
- A list of schools which are open for educational supervision is available on the Department of Education website: www.education-ni.gov.uk/publications/schools-open-supervised-learning-key-workers-children-and-vulnerable-children.
- A link to the guidance on schools clustering is available here: https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/guidance-schools-cluster-arrangements.
- Forms for those applying to provide supervision to vulnerable children and the children of key workers can be accessed from the Department of Education website using the following link: http://apps.education-ni.gov.uk/appc19vol/default.aspx.
- The online application form for small businesses that rent premises is available at: http://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/RentalPropertiesandNAVBelow1590.
- Information on the full range of Covid-19 related support for businesses is available at: https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/campaign/coronavirus-updates-support-your-business.
- Media enquiries should be directed to the relevant department using the following email addresses
The Executive Office: Press.Office@executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk;
Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs: PressOffice.Group@daera-ni.gov.uk;
Department for Communities: Press.Office@communities-ni.gov.uk;
Department of Education: Press.Office@education-ni.gov.uk;
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- For out of office hours media queries, contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.
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