Adult social care has not yet faced the peak of coronavirus infections, sector bosses have told Nursing in Practice, after Covid-19 deaths in care homes nearly doubled in a week.
Care home directors urged the Government to do more to help the sector cope, a week after Boris Johnson declared the UK ‘past the peak’ of the outbreak.
The Office for National Statistics revealed earlier this week that coronavirus-related deaths in care homes surged in England and Wales to 5,890, an increase of 2,500 from the week before. The figures cover the week ending 24 April.
Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group, which represents independent care providers in York and North Yorkshire, said he doesn’t ‘think the peak for care homes and the community has been reached… We feel very much in the front line and forgotten’.
Mr Padgham, who is also managing director at Saint Cecilia’s Care Group in Scarborough, continued: ‘In the early days of the outbreak, the Government didn’t think it would impact care homes very much. The attention was on the NHS.
‘Now government attention has only just turned to us. When the care sector saw so many deaths in Europe were in care homes, we wondered if we were going to follow suit. But the Government only looked to care homes late in the day.’
Mr Padgham is also concerned as to whether care homes are equipped to tackle coronavirus in the long run as the cost of personal protective equipment has become ‘enormous’.
A face mask cost 17.5p on average at the beginning of April but jumped to £1 towards the end of the month, he added. ‘It’s not sustainable for people to carry on in the sector without some financial help.’
George Coxon, a care home owner and director in Devon, agreed that ‘we haven’t seen the peak in care homes’ and is worried that social care has not been supported enough in the long-term, making it even harder to tackle the outbreak.
The workforce is ‘unstable’ and that ‘some of the bigger nursing homes are relying on a workforce that is very volatile and very transient’, he said.
Figures from January this year showed the adult social care workforce has around 122,000 full-time equivalent vacancies, a rate of around 8%. In addition, the CQC’s State of Care 2018/19 report found that staff ‘are affected by the lack of value given to social care by society and disproportionate levels of pay.’
Mr Coxon continued: ‘Compared to NHS staff, care home staff might be low income, unable to afford their own houses so more likely to live in share accommodation and relying on public transport’. This is not ideal when trying to reduce the risk of infection, he added.
However, Mr Coxon hopes that the care sector gains a ‘greater prominence’ and ‘more of a positive focus’ after the outbreak. ‘There are still people who see care homes as a graveyard,’ he added. ‘There’s so much prejudice still.’
Care England chief executive Professor Marin Green said the latest ONS data shows that the peak is ‘later’ in the care home sector than in the NHS.
He continued: ‘We fear that worse may to be come. It is ever more essential to ensure sufficient PPE and testing for staff and residents in conjunction with a long-term economic plan to ensure that the sector is adequately resourced to cope in the short, medium and long term.’
The Government only began publishing daily updates on death in care homes and the community on 29 April. Previously, it had only shown deaths of people with confirmed coronavirus in hospital.
Earlier this week, a Royal College of Nursing survey revealed that staff working outside the NHS, such as in social care, had less access to testing.
The Government announced last week that coronavirus tests will be available to all NHS and social care staff even if they do not have symptoms.
In addition, it was revealed last week that the families of all frontline NHS staff who die with Covid-19 will receive a one-off £60,000 payment.