CARE organisations have demanded the building of a “ring of steel” around care homes as figures released on Tuesday showed that 4343 residents had died from Covid-19 in just the two weeks between 10 and 24 April.
Covid-19 deaths in care homes now represent one third of all deaths from the virus in England and Wales. The executive director of the National Care Forum, Vic Rayner, called the loss of life “devastating”. He said on Tuesday: “Care homes need the right PPE equipment, medical monitoring devices, rapid and comprehensive testing, proper funding, and intensive research to safeguard the people they care for.
“This virus is not going away: this data shows that the ‘whatever it takes’ mantra must be applied urgently to protect the most vulnerable in social care, as we have to the NHS. We need action and we need it now.”
There has been continued outcry about the lack of PPE getting through to care homes and about the lack of testing, particularly of patients discharged from hospitals into care homes. Many are not equipped to cope, and GPs are no longer going into the homes. The deaths of residents with symptoms who had not been tested are likely to be have been documented as resulting from pneumonia or a chest infection, thus distorting the actual figures.
The number of deaths in care homes and care settings would now be announced daily together with the hospital figures, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced on Tuesday. Testing would also now be available to all residents and staff.
Care England, the largest representative body for independent providers of adult social care, has warned of severe financial implications for the sector, along with the “unbearable human costs.” On Monday, its chief executive, Professor Martin Green, called social-care providers “the second front line”.
He urged the Government: “Ultimately, during this time of crisis, they should be given the necessary resources to allow them to focus solely upon providing care and support to some of society’s most vulnerable, as opposed to having to engage in a piecemeal manner with local authorities and struggle for every part of their viability.”
The calls come amid rising demand for social care to be brought into the NHS. Care England’s analysis of the figures and the suggestion from the National Care Forum that doctors and nurses should be deployed urgently in care homes prompted questions in the House of Lords last week to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Lord Bethell.
He described Covid-19 as “an evil disease”, and the circumstances of deaths in care homes, while loved ones were absent, as “a cruel and horrible part of this epidemic”. But he rebutted a contention by Lord Laming that there had been “an almost total preoccupation in the department with the NHS and a near disregard of social care, resulting in a high price being paid by individuals and communities”.
The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, told the Lords that it was not just care homes that were facing these very serious challenges. “I have learned that it is also hospices and sheltered accommodation, among other places. Managers responsible for those organisations are under enormous pressure trying to ensure safe staffing levels and the safety of their staff,” she said.
“I hope that sufficient PPE will soon be secured and distributed. Although I recognise the enormous challenge and the efforts that are being made towards that, in the immediate context where we do not have that, can the Minister tell us how the Government aim to advise and support those responsible for running our care homes, sheltered accommodation, and hospices, who are having to make such difficult decisions now, and many of whom feel abandoned and rather lonely in that responsibility?”
The Minister said that huge resources had been put in place, but that “undoubtedly more can be done.”
Julie Roche, a care-home manager at MHA Westbury Grange Care Home in Newport Pagnell, described in a podcast for The Guardian this week how rapidly an infection could spread within a home. Mrs Roche, a nurse with 39 years’ experience, said that the home had been well prepared and discussions had taken place early on in the outbreak about how it would be handled. The home had the appropriate PPE.
But from one infection and death from a patient discharged into the home from hospital, she said, the number rose to 13 — more than a quarter of the residents — within a very short time. The home was accustomed to end-of-life care, but it had been particularly hard, Mrs Roche said, that families had not been able physically to be with their loved ones. “It’s been very hard dealing with this and not being able to give the human touch. We aren’t able to grieve at the moment and say our goodbyes. We have seen things that we will never forget.”