It was announced this week that eight residents of a care home in Dumbarton have died following reports of them suffering coronavirus symptoms. This followed an announcement at the end of last week, confirming that thirteen residents had died in a care home in Glasgow with reports of coronavirus symptoms. Sadly, it seems that unless the Government respond to the desperate pleas for guidance and help from staff, families, unions, and care homes, many more elderly residents in care homes will die unnecessarily.
The recent care home tragedies have highlighted a number of flaws in the Government’s approach to protecting residents and staff. The first being the preposterous notion that new residents, coming from either the community or a hospital, will not be tested for COVID-19 before moving into a care home to live. The Scottish Government’s guidelines specifically state, “People being admitted from home / the community do not need to be tested for COVID-19 and should be managed based on symptoms.” The Government are suggesting that it is sensible – recommended in fact – that individuals who have been cared for in the same hospitals that are treating COVID-19 patients simply migrate to the care home without any intervention or form of testing. This seems utterly barbaric in light of the #StayAtHome campaign and the guidelines on social distancing designed to prevent the spread of the disease.
To make matters worse, care homes are claiming that some GPs are suggesting that hospitals do not admit residents who are reporting symptoms, instead advising them to stay in their care homes. The risk of exposure this causes to residents and staff is alarming and sadly, there will inevitably be many more avoidable deaths as a result. This in turn raises a separate issue altogether; the UK’s official reported COVID-19 death rates will be incorrect. The UK are only currently testing individuals admitted to hospitals with Coronavirus symptoms so those quietly suffering in care homes across Scotland are not counted in the official figures.
The lack of testing is having a devastating effect on those residing in and those working in care homes. The continued failure to test care home employees is endangering elderly residents. Whilst the residents of these homes may be confined to the four corners of the premises, the staff are not. The staff are going about their daily lives when they are not in work and, more alarmingly, possibly working in between different care homes. It was reported recently that an elderly resident of a home died as a result of coronavirus after waiting ten days to be tested. Whilst waiting for the test, he had been cared for by staff who were working in several others care homes. Who knows how many care homes and people may have been infected as a result of that single scenario. The Scottish Government are simply not doing enough. They need to protect our elderly, and the staff, and ensure that this sector is a prime target for testing kit distribution.
A second key concern, aside from the lack of testing, is the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to care home staff. The relevant guidelines, published by NHS England, recommend that those working in community-care homes and other overnight facilities ‘with possible or confirmed cases’ ought to wear disposable gloves and an apron; and additional measures of a surgical mask and eye/face protection in specific cases. But what about preventative measures? What about PPE in homes where there is not yet any potential or confirmed cases? Staff have unsurprisingly been left very confused about the guidance. Johanna Baxter, Unison Scotland’s Head of Local Government, called for the guidance to be changed and described it as “nothing short of a national scandal”.
Aside from the unclear guidance, the principal problem is that it seems there is not enough PPE to supply even the care homes where residents are infected with the coronavirus. Masks are in short supply and delivery of PPE is facing long delays. How do we resolve this problem? The Government must direct more money towards the care sector in order that it can be provided with adequate resources to protect staff and elderly residents. This must be done as a matter of urgency before more lives are lost. The Government are simply not acting fast enough.
There has been little progress in the last week. At Nicola Sturgeon’s daily coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, she admitted that the supply of PPE was ‘under pressure’, but also claimed that supplies were ‘healthy’. The suggestion here of course is that the problem is with the distribution chains. The Government however have to do something about that and ensure that the care premises are protected. It may be that the matter will be addressed again today at the daily coronavirus briefing. However, so far, trade unions have said that their prior pleas have simply been ignored. It is about time that Nicola Sturgeon and the Government step up, take note of these concerns and ensure that the care sector is provided with appropriate guidelines to protect the safety and wellbeing of residents and staff; ensure that those entering the care home – staff and new residents – are tested before doing so; and ensure that all care home employees are provided with the necessary PPE.
Blog by Natalie Donald, Associate