Care homes ‘left to fend for themselves’ against coronavirus

Alzheimer’s Society warns the ‘lives of people with dementia continue to be put in danger’ and calls for weekly testing of all care home staff and residents, after finding over half of care homes can’t isolate residents, and 43% are still not confident of their PPE supply, despite nearly a third taking Covid-19 positive patients from hospital.

Despite Government promises three weeks ago to protect care homes from coronavirus, after pressure from Alzheimer’s Society, leading a charity group, 43% of homes surveyed last week by Alzheimer’s Society are still not confident of their personal protective equipment (PPE) supply, with one home resorting to taping bags around carers’ arms, feet and hair in a bid to protect them and their residents. 

The charity is now urging the Government to step up action on its coronavirus social care strategy, including a call for all staff and residents in social care to be tested at least weekly, as well as making sure PPE reaches all the care homes who need it as a matter of urgency.

58% of the 105 care homes Alzheimer’s Society questioned said they are unable to isolate residents with Covid-19, citing particular challenges with people with dementia who cannot retain information about social distancing, and gaps in staffing meaning one-on-one supervision isn’t possible. But, despite the lack of support in place to isolate the virus, a third of care homes surveyed said they had taken in Covid-19 positive patients discharged from hospital. 

One care home said they had “not seen any financial support from local authority or CCG - despite having to spend a significant sum on PPE to enable admissions from hospital.” Another said accessing tests for residents had been ‘extremely difficult’ and that it had taken until 2 May to obtain any. 

Anna, whose 89 year old father has severe dementia and is living in a care home in the East of England, said:

'There is currently a Covid outbreak in dad’s care home and tragically 17 residents have died, it’s so frightening. I visited my Dad at the care home and was able to see him through his bedroom window just before it was locked down because of the outbreak. Since then I haven’t been able to visit and I have no idea what’s going on behind closed doors.

I’m really worried about Dad catching Covid19, especially when you hear in the news how hard it is for care homes to get PPE.

'The care home is putting on a brave face but it’s clear the Government has left them unprotected in so many ways. It feels like the elderly and vulnerable are being neglected through all this. If disabled or vulnerable children were dying in this number, I don't think we would be turning away so easily.'

Alzheimer’s Society’s Chief Executive Kate Lee issued a stark warning in response to the disturbing findings, saying:

'It’s tragically clear care homes were left to fend for themselves against coronavirus, and unfortunately still are. Despite the heroic efforts of care workers, the precious lives of people with dementia and all those in homes are still being put in danger. 70% of people in care homes have dementia, and right now it feels like they are being written off.

'It was a relief for people with dementia when the Government agreed to Alzheimer’s Society’s demand for testing, equipment and daily death records for all care homes in need, but this research adds to the evidence showing they are not yet delivering enough on that promise.

Social care has to be an equal priority with the NHS in this crisis, and all care home staff and residents should now be getting tested at least once a week to get the virus under control.

'My mum has dementia and lives in a care home, and it frightens me that homes still aren’t getting the support they need to keep people safe.'

Alzheimer’s Society also issued a plea to the public to support the charity, with Chief Executive Kate Lee saying:

'We are set to lose up to £45 million this year, and we’re terrified what this will mean for the support available to people with dementia.  We’re told our support line is a lifeline, and our welfare calls are flagging the essential help people with dementia need, such as getting food to a 97-year old who was living off a box of cereal, unable to get hold of anything else.

'We’ve already rung over 39,000 people since the pandemic started, and we need the public’s help to reach everyone who needs us. Please donate at alzheimers.org.uk/emergency.'

Around 80% of the thousands of calls to Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Connect support line are about coronavirus issues and there has been an increase of 600% in people joining the charity’s online community Talking Point. The charity’s Emergency Appeal will raise funds to help keep the Dementia Connect support line going and extend telephone and virtual support.  To support Alzheimer’s Society’s Emergency Appeal, please visit alzheimers.org.uk/emergency

Survey Results 

Survey carried out via SmartSurvey between Thursday 30 April – 12 May 2020 of 105 care home managers. 103 respondents said they had residents with dementia. Response rates varied for each question – detailed below. The survey contained an open comment box asking ‘Is there anything else you would like to share with us about how Covid-19 is impacting your care home?’, which generated the quotes cited in the release.

a.    32.38% (34 out of 105 respondents) have taken in Covid-19 positive residents who have been discharged from hospital

b.    58.10% (61 out of 105 respondents) do not feel able to effectively isolate suspected Covid-19 residents

c.    42.86% (45 out of 105 respondents) are not confident of their PPE supply going forward, either independently sourced or from their local authorities. 80 respondents. 

d.    25.49% (26 out of 102 respondents) have felt residents should have been admitted to hospital with Covid-19 and haven’t

e.    75.24% (79 out of 105 respondents) said GPs have been reluctant to visit residents

f.    51.92% (54 out of 104 respondents) are having to verify the cause of death because GPs are not visiting care homes

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