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Expanding the provision of nursing support for care homes in Northern Ireland should form part of a new future for the social care sector, the country’s health minister has urged.
Robin Swann has announced plans for a new framework that will examine how the provision of clinical care, including nursing and medical support, can be further developed in care home settings.
“It is beyond doubt that the sector needs much greater resilience”
He has asked chief nursing officer for Northern Ireland, Professor Charlotte McArdle, to co-design the framework in partnership with the care home sector.
“This work will include examining how we would expand nursing, medical and multidisciplinary support, clinical leadership and specialist skills in collaboration with care home staff,” he said.
The minister was determined to secure investment and reform in social care in the country, according to a statement issued on Wednesday by Northern Ireland’s Department of Health.
Announcing plans for the new framework, Mr Swann said there had been an “important shift in the complexity of care provided in care homes over recent years” and a “greater proportion” of residents that had complex clinical healthcare needs than in the past.
“Residents who would have been in hospital five years ago and receiving palliative or end of life care are often now cared for in nursing and residential homes,” he said.
“Residential homes are often now providing a level of care that would have previously been found in nursing homes.”
In addition, the minister noted that the past few months of the Covid-19 crisis had “highlighted the high level of frailty and clinical acuity of residents” in Northern Ireland’s nursing homes.
“It is beyond doubt that the sector needs much greater resilience,” he said, adding that building on the extra support given during the pandemic was also key.
“Whilst I recognise the wide range of measures deployed to protect residents during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is timely to review how we build on this support going forward,” Mr Swann said.
“This will inform our ongoing response to the virus and help us rebuild care home provision for the long term.”
Mr Swann said the plan would also include “building on the important role of GPs in care homes”. Providing alternatives to hospital-based care for older people was essential, he stressed.
“This is not about converting care homes into mini-hospitals but ensuring that we keep supporting homes to deliver the care I know they want to, with the right level of clinical in-reach available at the right time,” he said.
“This work will include examining how we would expand nursing, medical and multidisciplinary support”
“We need to support everyone to have the care they need at home whenever possible – whether that is in a family home or a care home.”
The Department of Health was also working on the learnings from care home experiences of Covid-19 and a rapid learning initiative was announced earlier this month.
Mr Swann added: “We must learn from the experiences of the past number of months, including what worked well.
“Together with the care home sector, we will work to implement measures that can have a positive impact. This is fundamental in protecting our care home population in any future surge.”