Care agency owner says she 'just doesn't know how to keep her staff safe'

14 April 2020, 11:41

Care workers are asking for better PPE (file image)
Care workers are asking for better PPE (file image). Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

People working in the care industry have told LBC that workers are "not being given the correct PPE" and "even the most dedicated are now frightened".

It comes after 92 care homes reported fresh outbreaks of coronavirus in the space of a single day on Monday.

There are currently around 11,300 care homes in the UK, meaning more than 1,500 have reported cases.

Katie, a care agency manager from Essex, told James O'Brien how she has had to buy all her own PPE to keep staff members safe, as she gets no government funding.

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Her staff are going into people's homes for patients with dementia, and she said the people they care for "have no idea what is happening, and haven't seen their family members in months, and cannot be left for days."

"However, the people we look after have a lot of health problems and if they start to get ill I don't know how to keep my staff safe."

Care home owner Victor said: "I am struggling, I have given up on a lot of this.

"At the moment, all I want is to get my staff tested. So many of them are asking me if they can be tested. They're worried and scared.

"One resident died of Covid-19 after going to the hospital for three weeks.

"My staff are worried if they came into contact with this patient, and if they will infect other vulnerable residents."

"We had 50 residents, now we have about 44 or 43 and even our most committed staff are now frightened."

Helen, whose mother is in a care home, told LBC: "Agency workers who see my mother are going into multiple establishments per day, and they are not being given the correct PPE.

"The workers must be terrified as me that they are spreading coronavirus. We are just terrified our loved ones will get the virus."

"All of these residents really are lambs to the slaughter."

Baroness Altmann called the elderly "lambs to the slaughter"
Baroness Altmann called the elderly "lambs to the slaughter". Picture: PA

On Monday, former Pensions Minister Baroness Altmann said: "In all my decades of campaigning for the dignity of the elderly, there has been no clearer snapshot of how they are being abandoned like lambs to the slaughter.

"They are being left to die because we don't value their lives as highly as the young.

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said at Monday's government press conference said around 13.5% of care homes in the UK have registered an outbreak and said he would like to see an uplift in testing.

Asked if deaths are being recorded properly in such settings, he said: "Everybody who sadly dies, the doctor will make an assessment based on her or his view about what the cause of death is, that's what the death certificate says in all cases.

"Doctors take it very seriously and try to make sure that they get as much information to give accurate data.

"One of the things we want to do is to extend the amount of testing of people in care homes as the ability to test ramps up over the next few weeks.

"Because clearly care homes are one of the areas where there are large numbers of vulnerable people and that is an area of risk and therefore we would very much like to have much more extensive testing."

Chris Whitty speaking at the government's coronavirus press conference
Chris Whitty speaking at the government's coronavirus press conference. Picture: PA

A spokesperson for Care England said: "It has become abundantly clear that care homes are right at the bottom of the priority list and thus we are wasting time having to fight for everything.

"Insufficient PPE and testing for staff, residents and patients discharged from hospital remain the key concerns of care providers.

"There is scant recognition of the increased operating costs in this time of crisis despite the president of Adass advocating the need for more financial support to the sector at his evidence to the Health and Social Care Select Committee last month.

"If they are not supported unfortunately many providers will fold thus leaving our most vulnerable without care at this critical time."

The worst-hit care home is currently thought to be Burlington Court in Glasgow, where 16 residents are reported to have died.

13 patients have died at the Burlington care home in North Lanarkshire.
13 patients have died at the Burlington care home in North Lanarkshire. Picture: PA

It comes at the same time as the news that around two-thirds of care homes run by Britain's largest care home operator have cases of Covid-19.

Care sector bosses have said daily death tolls are "airbrushing out" hundreds of elderly people who have died at care homes.

Sir David Behan, former chief executive of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and now executive chairman of HC-One, said 232 care homes run by the firm have confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19.

He said the figures are a "more realistic picture" of what is going on in care homes across the UK than official figures suggest.

Sir David said: "We've been monitoring these numbers since the beginning of the outbreak and, as of yesterday evening at 8 o'clock, we'd had 2,447 of either suspected or confirmed Covid-19 within our care homes.

"It's present in 232 of our homes, which is about two-thirds of the total number of homes that we run."

He said 311 residents and one member of staff had died, and Covid-19 was responsible for about one in three elderly deaths at HC-One's care homes in the last three weeks.

More than 92 care homes reported Covid-19 cases in just one day
More than 92 care homes reported Covid-19 cases in just one day. Picture: PA

Data collected from official sources by a London School of Economics-based team found 42-57% of all deaths linked to the virus were among care home residents.

The countries studied by the International Long Term Care Policy Network (LTCPN) included Italy, Spain, Ireland, Belgium and France.

It comes after industry bosses in the UK said daily death tolls are "airbrushing out" hundreds of older people who have died in the care system.

Care England has estimated there have been nearly 1,000 deaths from coronavirus in care homes, and, separately Baroness Altmann wrote in the Daily Mail that aged care residents who are refused hospital treatment are "being abandoned like lambs to the slaughter".

The LTCPN report suggested that the clearest snapshot of coronavirus mortality in care homes came from Ireland, as there was a centralised system to collect information relating to Covid-19.

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Nadra Ahmed, chairman of the National Care Association, said: "It's very, very frightening because we want to keep our staff safe.

"We have got staff, quite rightly, saying 'we don't want to do the job if we haven't got the equipment' because they've got their own family to think of," she told reporters.

The Department of Health says it has delivered 7.8 million PPE products to more than 26,000 care settings across the country and is rapidly working to extend testing to social care workers.

Ms Ahmed said: "I think everyone is doing everything they can, I'm not saying they're not - we are talking to the Government all the time but I think the urgency of dealing with it in a care setting seems to have passed them by.

"They start to really think about the breaks that we need."

She added the care industry has also been hit by staffing issues, with between 20-25% of workers currently self-isolating or not able to work.

She said: "Staff are doing double shifts, they're working their socks off to try and keep the people we are looking after safe, that's our entire focus is to keep people safe in our services.

"We just need a virtual hug - care homes."