Temporary workers 'were spreading coronavirus between care homes', reports

19 May 2020, 05:49

More than 22,000 care home residents are estimated to have died in England and Wales
More than 22,000 care home residents are estimated to have died in England and Wales. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The issue of Covid-19 in care homes will come to the fore later today amid reports the Government were aware a month ago that temporary workers were helping spread the disease.

MPs will quiz care home bosses on Tuesday over their handling of the coronavirus crisis as the Guardian newspaper claimed a Government study found temporary staff transmitted cases between facilities.

The newspaper claimed a leaked Public Health England study found workers who transmitted coronavirus across six care homes had been brought in to cover for staff who were self-isolating to prevent the vulnerable people they looked after from becoming infected.

Reports claim the study happened over the Easter weekend with the results having been available to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) since at least the end of last month.

The paper said the results were only circulated to care home providers, councils and local directors of public health last week.

Read more: Anyone aged five or older can now get a Covid-19 test if they display symptoms

Listen & subscribe: Global Player | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Since the coronavirus crisis started more than 22,000 care home residents are estimated to have died in England and Wales, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitting there had been "an appalling epidemic in care homes".

Coronavirus outbreaks have been reported in almost four in 10 care homes in England, according to Number 10, as the UK death toll passed 41,500 on Monday.

Meanwhile, an NHS Providers report claimed suggestions that NHS trusts knowingly and systematically discharged Covid-19 patients into care homes to free up beds are "damaging and mistaken".

Trust leaders told NHS Providers they consistently followed Government guidance and only discharged known or suspected coronavirus patients if care homes had capacity to safely care for them.

Last week, the Government announced a £600 million "Infection Control Fund" to support efforts to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in care homes.

The ring-fenced funding, partly designed to pay for homes' additional staffing costs during the pandemic, came with the condition that managers would be asked to restrict permanent and agency staff to working in only one care home where possible.

However, initial advice given to social care providers by DHSC, published on April 16, did not mention the need to restrict staff movements.

The Commons health and social care committee is due to question a number of experts and bosses from the care sector on Tuesday, including James Bullion, vice president at the Association of Directors of Social Services, and Care England chief executive Professor Martin Green.

A DHSC spokesman said: "We are working around the clock to make sure care homes, and our frontline social care workforce, are getting the support they need to protect their residents and tackle coronavirus.

"Our help to care homes, which includes financial support, infection control training and supplies of PPE, has meant that two thirds of England's care homes have had no outbreak at all."

Meanwhile, an association of care homes in the northeast has sent a legal warning to their local council over fears the sector could collapse without any additional support, it has been reported.

Sky News said that a letter had been sent from Care North East - which represents 21 care homes - to North Tyneside Council advising that if action was not taken to provide funding and support within five days the area's care market will start to collapse.

The providers accuse the council of failing to provide enough financial support to care homes to meet the additional costs incurred during the crisis.

The calls follow questions put by Conservative MPs, including Sir Graham Brady, chair of the influential Tory backbench 1922 Committee, to Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Monday about what support would be provided to care homes who are experiencing "unusually high vacancy rates" at present.

A decision on whether schools will return next month is likely to be made this week, Downing Street hinted in a briefing with reporters on Monday.

It comes as Tony Blair became the latest high profile figure to intervene in the row over whether schools should return next month.

Prime Minister Mr Johnson, in his address to the nation on May 10, said Reception, Y1 and Y6 pupils would start to return from June 1 but the proposal has come in for criticism from teaching unions and councils, with Bury Council the latest to rule-out reopening its schools by the target date.

But former prime minister Mr Blair, who was in Downing Street for a decade, said the Government was "right" to be following both the scientific advice and the lead set by other nations.