Covid-19 restrictions on care homes could mean the elderly don’t see their family for a year, a leading charity has warned.
Age UK is worried about the powers given to local health bosses to impose blanket bans on visits, a move to prevent Britain’s most vulnerable residents catching the coronavirus.
Although virus control is important, the charity said visiting restrictions undermine the danger of lack of social contact with loved ones.
It warned a number of care home residents have already died prematurely because they ‘have gone downhill fast’ as a result of being cut off from their loved ones. Experts have previously warned isolation can lead to the deterioration of conditions such as dementia.
Age UK’s warning came after Boris Johnson yesterday announced new restrictions in England in response to rising numbers of coronavirus cases.
He said if the situation does not improve, the measures could last for more than six months to March — a year after the initial lockdown when care homes first shut their doors.
Most care homes in the UK were given the green light to open again in the summer, after the outbreak was restrained.
But since infection rates have gone up again, many are not risking the virus entering and wreaking havoc like it did in March and April, and have reintroduced visiting bans to the dismay of families.
Covid-19 restrictions on care homes could mean the elderly don’t see their family for a year, Age UK has warned (stock)
Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, told The Telegraph restrictions could leave elderly care home residents alone for a year.
She said: ‘Given where we are now with Covid-19, we worry that more and more care homes will now shut their doors to visitors, either off their own bat or because their local director of public health instructs them to do so.
‘It is crucial that we protect care home residents from the risk of infection, but that’s only one of the two enormous risks that have to be managed here.
CARE HOMES HAVING TO WAIT 15 DAYS FOR COVID TEST RESULTS
Care homes are having to wait up to 15 days for Covid test results, the Daily Mail can reveal.
Managers say the system is so ‘shambolic’ they fear further fatal outbreaks.
With Health Secretary Matt Hancock warning that a virus ‘tipping point’ is approaching, the care bosses demanded a much quicker turnaround.
The Mail spoke to 19 providers which together run 393 homes. Staff or residents tested positive at a third of the chains over the past fortnight and in most cases results came late.
Nine said they had to throw away tests after couriers did not turn up on time. One had to ditch 250 swabs in a week.
Homes need quick results if they are to halt an outbreak.
Several providers had to wait as long as 15 days and in some cases heard nothing back from laboratories. Results should be processed within 24 hours but the supposedly ‘world- beating’ system has been overwhelmed.
Nadra Ahmed, who is executive chairman of the National Care Association, said the testing chaos was ‘one of the Government’s greatest failings’.
She added: ‘I can’t believe they didn’t envisage that there would be an increase in demand for tests and results in a timely manner as lockdown was eased.
‘We can’t deal with a postcode lottery at this critical time. As it stands, it is utterly chaotic, shambolic and a disgrace.’
‘The other is the risk of undermining older people’s mental and physical health by cutting them off from those they love for a long time.
‘There is ample evidence from the pandemic to date that, in these circumstances, many care home residents have gone downhill fast and a number have died prematurely without ever seeing their families and friends again.’
Under the social care winter plan, which came out last week, local directors of public health were given the authority to close care homes if the spread of coronavirus is rising in the community.
Ms Abrahams said: ‘We are firmly of the view that there is no place for blanket bans when it comes to care home visiting.
‘Getting the balance right between infection control on the one hand and protecting residents’ mental and physical health on the other is challenging, but some care homes are showing that it really can be done.’
Already, hundreds of large care home operators in England have taken extra steps to protect their residents just a couple of months after they were given the go-ahead to reopen at the end of July, when cases of Covid-19 in the UK were at record lows.
Wales allowed visits from late August, and Scotland and Northern Ireland from early July.
Some care homes had to shut to visitors in line with local lockdowns ordered by the Government.
Parts of North West England, West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Leicester, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are currently under tighter Covid-19 rules.
The aim is to avoid families bringing the coronavirus into the home and reaching the most vulnerable people of society. The elderly are far more likely to die of the coronavirus if they catch it.
Already 15,000 people have died of confirmed or suspected Covid-19 in care home in England and Wales, figures collected by the Office for National Statistics show. And at least 10,000 more died unexpectedly from other causes.
Care UK and HC One, two of the largest national operators, have already closed dozens of homes to visitors, having re-opened them over the summer.
Care homes were shut for at least four months during lockdown, which is feared to have already had a huge impact on elderly residents.
The lack of social contact caused dementia patients’ health to rapidly deteriorate as they felt confused, isolated and abandoned.
But with a long winter ahead, and a toughening of Covid-19 restrictions announced by the Prime Minister yesterday, things don’t look set to improve.
Last week the government announced its Adult Social Care Winter Plan to curb the spread of the coronavirus in care settings.
It came after calls for a clear plan to be laid out for winter following the shambolic handling of the care home crisis in the ‘first wave’ of the pandemic.
The plan included free PPE for care home staff and a £546million Infection Control Fund.
But charities poked holes in the plans, with the Alzheimer’s Society requesting for free PPE to also be given to relatives so they can visit the elderly.
A statement from the charity said: ‘With care homes across the country once again closing their doors, we must make sure people with dementia are not cut off from vital visits from their loved ones.
‘We’re urging the Government to prioritise providing PPE and repeated, regular testing for both care home staff and for family carers.
‘Where this isn’t possible, steps must be put in place to ensure regular contact can continue between residents and their loved ones.’
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR CARE HOMES? A TIMELINE OF FAILINGS
FEBRUARY – SAGE scientists warned Government ‘very early on’ about the risk to care homes
Britain’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, revealed in April that he and other senior scientists warned politicians ‘very early on’ about the risk COVID-19 posed to care homes.
He said: ‘So very early on we looked at a number of topics, we looked at nosocomial infection very early on, that’s the spread in hospitals, and we flagged that as something that the NHS needed to think about.
‘We flagged the fact that we thought care homes would be an important area to look at, and we flagged things like vaccine development and so on. So we try to take a longer term view of things as well as dealing with the urgent and immediate areas.’
The SAGE committee met for the first time on January 22, suggesting ‘very early on’ in its discussions was likely the end of January or the beginning of February.
MARCH – Hospital patients discharged to homes without tests
In March and April at least 25,000 people were discharged from NHS hospitals into care homes without getting tested for coronavirus, a report by the National Audit Office found.
This move came at the peak of the outbreak and has been blamed for ‘seeding’ Covid-19 outbreaks in the homes which later became impossible to control.
NHS England issued an order to its hospitals to free up as many beds as they could, and later sent out joint guidance with the Department of Health saying that patients did not need to be tested beforehand.
Chair of the public accounts committee and a Labour MP in London, Meg Hillier, said: ‘Residents and staff were an afterthought yet again: out of sight and out of mind, with devastating consequences.’
MARCH – Public Health England advice still did not raise alarm about care home risk and allowed visits
An early key error in the handling of the crisis, social care consultant Melanie Henwood told the Mail on Sunday, was advice issued by Public Health England (PHE) on February 25 that it remained ‘very unlikely’ people in care homes would become infected as there was ‘currently no transmission of Covid-19 in the UK’.
Yet a fortnight earlier the UK Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling committee had concluded: ‘It is a realistic probability that there is already sustained transmission in the UK, or that it will become established in the coming weeks.’
On March 13, PHE advice for care homes changed ‘asking no one to visit who has suspected Covid-19 or is generally unwell’ – but visits were still allowed.
Three days later, Mr Johnson said: ‘Absolutely, we don’t want to see people unnecessarily visiting care homes.’
MARCH/APRIL – Testing not readily available to care home residents
In March and April coronavirus swab tests – to see who currently has the disease – were rationed and not available to all care home residents suspected of having Covid-19.
Government policy dictated that a sample of residents would be tested if one showed symptoms, then an outbreak would be declared and anyone else with symptoms presumed to be infected without a test.
The Department of Health has been in control of who gets Covid-19 tests and when, based on UK testing capacity.
MARCH/APRIL – Bosses warned homes didn’t have enough PPE
Care home bosses were furious in March and April – now known to have been the peak of the UK’s epidemic – that their staff didn’t have enough access to personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and aprons.
A letter sent from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) to the Department of Health saw the care chiefs accuse a senior figure at the Department of overseeing a ‘shambolic response’.
Adass said it was facing ‘confusion’ and additional work as a result of mixed messaging put out by the Government.
It said the situation around PPE, which was by then mandatory for all healthcare workers, was ‘shambolic’ and that deliveries had been ‘paltry’ or ‘haphazard’.
A shortage of PPE has been a consistent issue from staff in care homes since the pandemic began, and the union Unison revealed at the beginning of May that it had already received 3,600 reports about inadequate access to PPE from workers in the sector.
APRIL – Care home deaths left out of official fatality count
The Department of Health refused to include people who had died outside of hospitals in its official daily death count until April 29, three weeks after deaths had peaked in the UK.
It started to include the ‘all settings’ measure from that date and added on 3,811 previously uncounted Covid-19 deaths on the first day.
Source: Daily Mail