Crisis in our care homes

Care home residents face Christmas isolation with Covid on the rise

The care home for the elderly sector has been hit harder than any other by the Covid-19 crisis, and as winter approaches, managers, staff, and most importantly, residents, are living in fear as the Coronavirus builds towards a potentially massive second spike.

According to Nadra Ahmed, chair of the National Care Association, care homes are still “widely exposed”, as the virus starts spreading again. And she adds that many of her members are extremely concerned at the government guidance on how care homes should prepare for the winter months. The problem, for many, is clarity, or the lack of it.

In a rapidly developing and frequently deteriorating situation, mixed messages and changing instructions are proving chaotic for care home managers and staff.

The government wants all residents who have been discharged from hospital to be isolated for 14 days, regardless of their Covid-19 test results. But that raises huge logistical issues for most care homes, as few have the facilities to keep isolated a single resident and all the associated support staff required to cover a 14-day period.

There are also continuing testing issues, where despite government promises that all tests would be returned within 24 hours, it is still taking several days.

To head off a potentially disastrous scenario, the Department of Health and Social Care has instructed local councils to set up hundreds of dedicated, Covid-positive homes, in an attempt to keep patients discharged from hospitals from spreading the virus more widely.

Already dubbed “hot homes”, the facilities are proving controversial, particularly in regard to staff safety and to whether or not those discharged from hospital would have a choice about going into a Covid-only facility.

And, as the crisis deepens and further changes are proposed, debated and sometimes adopted, there have been reminders that the most important consideration must be the welfare and wellbeing of the care home residents themselves.

Now frequently denied visits on safety grounds, thousands of our elderly, often frail and vulnerable residents are feeling anxious, bewildered and deeply afraid. With Christmas coming, and with little good cheer apparent, some feel locked away and forgotten.

What our surveys show

Perhaps the most illuminating aspect of our survey is the fact that 26% percent of us “don’t know” what is happening in our care homes regarding their level of preparedness for the rising number of infections expected with winter approaching.

Arguably, this could be put down partly to a lack of clarity and the frequent changes in direction and tactics employed since the start of the crisis. Of those who did express an opinion, a significant majority consider the sector either “fairly unprepared” or “very unprepared” for winter and a new wave of Coronavirus infections, with only 14% thinking it was either very or fairly well prepared.

When we asked whether the level of government funding to support care for the elderly facilities should be increased, decreased or stay the same, the answer was emphatic – a thumping 86% of us believe funding should be increased.

With the situation as it is currently, many obviously recognise that thousands of care home residents face a bleak and lonely Christmas, with little prospect of traditional seasonal cheer.

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