There has been a lot of news reported lately about how the Coronavirus pandemic is playing out in care homes and other residential care settings. Many people are concerned about their family members and friends who live in care homes, especially as they are unable to visit. I want to address some of people’s concerns today.
One of the most concerning elements of Coronavirus in care homes is the number of deaths that are happening as a result of the virus. Some statistics released by the Office of National Statistics have led to comparisons on the number of deaths between different areas of the country. The difference in the number of people dying of Covid-19 in care homes could be for a number of reasons, including difference in population size, the number of care homes per area, or more people remaining in their usual place of residence rather than moving into hospital for end of life care. Suffolk has a high number of ‘nursing’ beds in care homes. This means people can remain in their care home setting for a longer period and get treatment as they become more ill, rather than being transferred to hospital. Also, here in Suffolk, we instigated a local testing regime early on for care homes. With more tests being carried out, we have more results, so we are able to confirm whether Coronavirus contributed to the cause of death.
The number of people who have died in care homes in Suffolk is, thankfully, small. However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that people have died because of Coronavirus. It is a tragedy that families are losing their much beloved relatives and friends to this virus and my deepest sympathies and condolences are with those who are grieving during this most difficult time.
What I want to stress is that the reason people are sadly dying in care homes due to Coronavirus isn’t down to care homes in Suffolk not doing enough. Care providers in Suffolk are doing everything they can to look after their residents and those receiving support in their own homes.
While we no longer have any council-owned care homes in Suffolk, they are all privately owned and run, the county council still considers looking after the most vulnerable to be its top priority. This means that we have focused on supporting the county’s care providers in whatever way we can, to help them face the challenges that Coronavirus presents.
We are in daily contact with providers to support them and respond to their needs and concerns. We have provided a package of financial support that includes a minimum payment guarantee, as well as advance payments to enable providers to stay operational even when faced with staff absence.
We have supported health partners to deploy dedicated infection prevention and control support to providers through a dedicated support line for infection advice, personal protective equipment (PPE) questions, and for requesting testing for residents with symptoms.
Ahead of a national testing site being available we started testing residents in care homes. Since testing began in mid-April, over 600 people have been tested, and testing continues.
Meanwhile care homes and providers are doing an incredible job to protect their residents and staff and control the spread of infection where it arises.
They are following the latest guidance issued by Public Health England and Government for the correct use of PPE such as face masks, visors, goggles, gloves, and aprons.
They are practicing social distancing wherever possible and where it is not, due to the task being carried out, PPE is in use and, of course, hygiene practices are being followed throughout our care homes.
The problems that the care sector faces when trying to get enough PPE have been well documented. While care providers are responsible for sourcing their own supply of equipment, the Suffolk Resilience Forum has set up a PPE centre that is providing the local care market with emergency supplies. So far, we have supplied 219 organisations with PPE and every care provider who has asked for support has received it.
The county council is standing shoulder to shoulder with our care providers as we face this crisis and I want to take one final moment to praise their monumental efforts and their continued dedication and professionalism. The kindness and warmth that they show our most vulnerable each and every day, despite the pressures they face is deeply moving. Please continue to join me at 8pm on Thursday evenings, and applaud our amazing care workers. They are incredible people who are doing their best for the sake of others; they deserve to feel your thanks and appreciation.