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Care bosses are demanding £500m in extra government funding to make care homes safe in the run-up to Christmas, while some councils have been accused of taking infection control too far by banning tinsel or advising against trees.
After the health secretary, Matt Hancock, pledged to make visiting possible in every care home by Christmas, the National Care Forum (NCF) said homes need a doubling of the £546m infection control fund to at least £1bn.
This would help prevent the need for staff to move between homes, improve visiting facilities, deliver testing for visitors and guarantee enough PPE, it said.
A pilot for rapid-result lateral flow testing for relatives is beginning in 20 homes and is to be rolled out to around 16,000 other care facilities, but experts say Hancock’s pledge may be unrealistic.
“In order to make good this commitment [for Christmas visits], we will be looking to the government to provide additional support so we can move to the position where visiting is a default,” said Vic Rayner, the executive director of the NCF.
Even if visits are enabled in time for the holiday period, some care homes may not appear very festive because health authorities have raised concerns that decorations may spread infection.
One care home in Dundee reported that it had been told not to have Christmas trees inside, while Lancashire county council has advised care homes not to use tinsel and that baubles are acceptable only if they are “on a cleaning schedule with audit”. In Hampshire, health authorities have advised care homes to ask for presents to arrive unwrapped and to consider putting trees outside.
An extract from a memo to care homes from the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight sustainability and transformation partnership, seen by the Guardian, said: “Homes may prefer to receive gifts unwrapped and to wrap themselves. There should be no Christmas decorations during an outbreak or near isolation areas.”
Some care home managers are concerned about the rules, arguing that Christmas decorations can be an important stimulus to memory for people with dementia.
Jane Ashcroft, the chief executive of Anchor Hanover, which runs care homes and retirement villages, struck a defiant tone, saying: “Santa’s had his test and is on his way.”
Jayne Connery, director of the Care Campaign for the Vulnerable, said she had been told of six councils that had proposed restrictions or bans in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus.
She said: “We are getting a huge outpouring about how ridiculous this is and how the elderly have suffered enough and now they are taking away the feel of Christmas. Elderly people resonate a lot with Christmas and many may see this Christmas as their last. Families and carers are outraged after the year they have had.”
Zoe McCallum, of the Brendoncare Foundation, which runs 10 care homes in the south of England where rapid tests for visitors are being trialled, said: “We’re seeing guidance coming out from local authorities about baubles and what have you, and we’re hoping things will change.
“It’s really important that our residents have something to remember, and not just a year that’s happened but a Christmas to enjoy with singing and with games and with lots of presents and with lots of food and a little tipple now and then.”
There are also wider concerns about infection control procedures in care homes. A survey by the NCF of 1,240 care and support services across England revealed that only a third had been allocated sufficient PPE to meet their requirements through the national PPE portal. In September the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) promised free PPE this winter.
The survey also revealed delays in getting results for staff Covid-19 PCR tests, which have to be sent to laboratories. “We still have over 60% of tests being returned three days and beyond and only 24% of tests being returned in 48 hours,” said Rayner. It was an improvement on the summer but remained too slow to be as effective as possible at controlling infection, she said.
She added that while the government had committed to delivering whole-home testing for 20% of homes for supported living and extra care, the survey showed that only 1.3% had been getting it.
The DHSC and Hampshire and Lancashire county councils have been contacted for comment.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: UK care home bosses seek extra £500m for Christmas Covid measures | Society