A new framework aiming to ‘enhance’ clinical care within care homes has been published in Northern Ireland.
The Enhancing Clinical Care Framework, spearheaded by the Department of Health in collaboration with the chief nursing officer (CNO) for Northern Ireland, hopes to ensure those living in care homes ‘have access to the clinical and wellbeing support they want and need, to live healthy, fulfilling lives’.
It recognises the important role played by care home nurses and recommends that people in care homes are connected with local general practice nurses, advanced practitioners and district nursing teams.
CNO for Northern Ireland, Maria McIlgorm, said: ‘We know that people living in adult care homes do not always have equitable access to the clinical care they need, when they need it, to maintain their health and wellbeing.
‘Our ultimate ambition is to ensure people living in care homes can equitably access the same range of responsive and preventative healthcare available to those living outside care homes.’
The plans to produce a new clinical framework began in 2020 when former health minister Robin Swann said he wanted to enhance existing nursing and medical in-reach into care homes.
Recent census data shows that in the last decade, between 2011 and 2021, the proportion of the population in Northern Ireland aged 65 or over has increased by 24%.
The framework notes that, while increased life expectancy is an indication of increasing overall health, the number of people living in care homes with severe frailty has also risen.
And it focuses on using a ‘holistic approach’ to the health and wellbeing of care home residents and sets out four key pillars for services to centre on: prevention; an anticipatory approach, self-management and early intervention; urgent and emergency care; and palliative and end of life care.
Under the principle of prevention, the framework recommends that people in care homes should be connected with their community health teams and have regular access to local nursing teams.
This includes having access to nurse practitioners, district nurses and specialist liaison nurses to support their conditions while they remain within the home, it said.
Likewise, under the pillar of early intervention, the framework emphasises that care home residents ‘require consistent connection’ with their general practice team.
The framework also sets out the ‘system enablers’ required to ensure those working in a care home environment feel empowered, and have the suitable skills, training and access to career development opportunities.
Northern Ireland’s permanent secretary, Peter May, said that the framework was ‘ambitious and comprehensive’ and recognised the challenges within care homes.
‘There has been a noticeable change in the characteristics of the care home population. People are living longer, which is to be celebrated, but many are doing so with more complex health and care needs than would previously have been the case,’ said Mr May.
‘Whether living in their own home or in an adult residential or nursing home, individuals should receive the highest standards of care that holistically address those needs.’