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Coroner’s opinion sought on multiple deaths after care home closure

Valley Nursing Home in Clogher

A Northern Ireland Council is to continue to seek answers and accountability around serious concerns over the closure of the Valley Nursing Home in Clogher.

Last month, Independent Councillor Donal O’Cofaigh from Fermaghangh and Omagh District Council, told members multiple vulnerable residents died in the “immediate aftermath” of being moved from the Clogher facility, which was ordered to close during the Covid-19 lockdown by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA).

It further emerged some residents were transferred to facilities with confirmed outbreaks of the virus.

The facility was home to 53 residents when it was ordered to close following an unannounced inspection by RQIA in October, 2020, who deemed the management company, Healthcare Ireland, unfit to operate.

Significant concerns were identified around management of Covid-19 guidance, infection prevention and control, fire safety, care delivery and records, mandatory training, a lack of stimulation for residents, control of hazardous substances, staff interaction with patients, and managerial oversight and governance.

RQIA found a lack of regard for patients’ safety, dignity and human rights, including the quality and availability of clothing.

The home did not provide a therapeutic environment, alongside a notable lack of effort to engage residents in meaningful activity.

Councillor O’Cofaigh explained 14 residents died in the immediate aftermath, while six who had already been moved within the Western Trust area also passed away.

Some residents without Covid-19 were moved to other care homes, of which two had active outbreaks. A doctor associated with the residents was never informed or involved.

Members agreed to enquire if a ‘lessons learned’ review had been carried out , and if so, when the report will be available as “it is very important for relatives and survivors to obtain truth”.

Responses were received from both the RQIA and Minister for Health, Robin Swann, whose correspondence contained a small extract from the ‘Lesson Learned’ report.

At the most recent Council meeting, Councillor O’Cofaigh welcomed the Minister’s input.

However, he added: “While this is only a section of the report, it’s at least more than has been provided in the past two years.

“However, there is no reference whatsoever to the fact 20 people died in the immediate aftermath of this closure, nor to any investigation into whether these deaths were related to the transfer process.

“There is also no reference to the fact the GP assigned to the Valley Nursing Home had no involvement in the transfers.

“There is no reference to the homes to which residents were transferred having live Covid outbreaks at the time, when the Valley itself did not.”

He continued: “The closure was based on RQIA’s serious concerns with Healthcare Ireland, who were ruled incapable of managing this facility. Yet many of the 53 residents were transferred to other homes run by this company.

“An elderly patient was moved from the Valley against the concerns of the family and staff, which highlights and reinforces the haphazard and callous nature of the approach taken.”

He added: “Latest correspondence points to RQIA actually trying to blame the Western Trust.”

Stressing the need for investigation, Councillor O’Cofaigh proposed seeking clarity if RQIA stands over its closure decision and the outcomes flowing from it.

He also called for the Coroner to offer an opinion as to whether the deaths were associated with the closure and transfer of residents.

Finally, Councillor O’Cofaigh proposed asking the Minister to commission an independent review to ascertain how many deaths were attributable to the RQIA’s closure decision.

The Chamber was in full agreement, and the proposals passed unanimously.

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