I’ve called on the government to act quickly to provide more support to care homes in response to local concerns about the speed of coronavirus testing, stocks of protective equipment, and increased financial pressures.
Many people who live in care homes will be at particular risk from the coronavirus because of their age or underlying health conditions, which makes quick testing of residents and staff especially important.
Testing for hospital patients who are discharged to care homes has started, but the outcome of tests in these cases is not known when they arrive at the home. Care homes are being told they need to set aside isolation areas until the results come through, which puts further strain on care homes at a time when they are already overstretched.
Furthermore, many care home staff have still not been tested for coronavirus, despite Matt Hancock’s pledge that each of the 30,000 care providers across the country would be offered tests for their staff.
Although PPE is now being supplied to care homes, staff are worried that their supplies will run out and prices have risen dramatically due to demand. One supplier is now charging a local care home £48 for a box fifty face masks that would normally cost £3. Concerns also remain about the quality of protective equipment being provided to NHS and care staff as the UK government has set standards for PPE that are lower than those recommended by the World Health Organisation.
At the same time, as care home staff go into self isolation or are tested positive for coronavirus, they need to be replaced by agency staff, which adds more new costs to already tight budgets.
According to figures released today by the Office for National Statistics, there were a total of 2,906 deaths involving coronavirus in English care homes up to 17 April. The latest data from the Care Quality Commission reveals an additional 2,375 Covid-19 related care home deaths between 18 April to 24 April, bringing the total to 5,281.
These awful figures highlight the terrible toll that coronavirus is having on elderly and disabled people in care homes. Yet, even these figures are out of date with the ONS cautioning that the total number of deaths may be an underestimate because of reporting delays.
I’ve previously called on the government to publish daily figures of Covid-19 deaths outside hospital, including in care homes. This information is essential to tackling the spread of the virus, ensuring social care has the resources it needs and getting vital PPE and testing to care workers on the frontline.
I’ve written to Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, to outline these concerns and to ask how the government intends to help care homes withstand these additional pressures.
It’s no use government Ministers clapping care workers on a Thursday night if they’re going to let them down when it really matters. The government must follow through on their promises to care workers and provide them the support they need now.
The government must immediately get PPE to all care homes, publish a strategy today that outlines how it intends to test more than 1.2 million frontline social care workers, and make sure that all care home residents who have tested positive for coronavirus can isolate safely.