It is with great hope and a lot of joy that we are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel with the global pandemic we are experiencing. News of the vaccine this week and a return to visits in many of our homes has been a relief and a sense of having started to ‘turn a corner’.

This is not a time to be complacent but rather a time to be more vigilant as we develop the tools to ultimately beat this virus and return to a semblance of normality in our lives and communities.

At Hutchinson Homes we have been able to restart limited visiting in many of our homes and those which remain under PHA guidance are getting ready to start receiving visitors again in the days ahead also.

From next week (likely Wednesday), two of our homes will be providing Visitor Testing programmes as part of the NI pilot programme. In Antrim Care Home & Ballyclare Nursing Home staff have been preparing for this over the last week, with the resources to facilitate this arriving and staff being trained to deliver the service. The visitor testing will allow for a visitor to arrive on site, be tested by one of our staff and within 40 minutes of the test being completed a result being given to the visitor. Those returning a negative result will be able to enjoy a slightly more relaxed visit, still wearing PPE as guided, and enjoy a better interaction with loved ones. More details will be issued to the families of these two homes residents shortly.

Dorothy Burns & Sharon Smyth, the managers in both these homes, have welcomed the testing programme and are delighted to be part of the pilot which will not only benefit the two homes involved immediately but also homes across Northern Ireland very soon. Public Health Authority staff have developed this programme and delivered it through consultation and training with the staff teams who are now excited to get started and see visitors engage more actively with residents in the weeks ahead.

News this week of the vaccine rollout has also been very welcome and in snapshot polls the potential uptake of the vaccine by staff and residents is extremely encouraging. Background work to prepare for the vaccination in all our homes has been ongoing and we are pleased to say that the administration of the vaccine will commence in our homes next Tuesday and by next Saturday evening we anticipate all staff and residents who wish to avail of the vaccine will have received their ‘first dose’.

Managing Director, Eddy Kerr, said ‘The vaccination programme is very welcome and we will be doing everything in our power to ensure this goes as smoothly as possible in all our homes in the days ahead. Health Trust staff have been supporting our homes with the administrative process and the next stage will be welcoming the vaccinators into all our homes to start this process of immunisation and the fight back against COVID-19.’

As the details for the vaccine delivery become available the home managers will be sharing details with residents, families and staff on a local level.

Do remember to remain vigilant in the fight against this virus. As we roll out visitor testing and the vaccination programme it is important to keep up our guard. We encourage everyone to continue to follow the PHA guidance at all times and stay safe not only when in our homes but when in your local communities over this Christmas period.

We look forward to seeing more visitors over the next few weeks and will also be issuing our localised guidelines and protocols for extra visiting slots on Christmas Day and Boxing Day to all our homes.