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Friday, May 20, 2022

UK care home firm says visitor rules in ‘total imbalance’ to Covid risks

UK care home firm says visitor rules in ‘total imbalance’ to Covid risks

Four Seasons Healthcare boss says depriving residents of their right to see loved ones is ‘an absolute outrage’

One of the UK’s biggest care home operators is calling on the government to lift visiting restrictions after it recorded one Covid death in the last fortnight.

Four Seasons Healthcare, which operates 165 care homes, said close to 4,000 residents were living under strict lockdowns because of outbreaks, but the Omicron variant was proving so mild in a well-vaccinated population that limits on seeing family and friends were in “total imbalance” with the risk.

Of 132 deaths among the chain’s residents in the last two weeks, just one was attributed to Covid, but because two or more staff or residents have tested positive in 86 homes, indoor visits are now largely banned. That is in step with government guidelines imposed before Christmas amid uncertainty about the danger of the latest coronavirus variant.

“We are depriving people of their right to visitors, which is an absolute outrage,” said Jeremy Richardson, the chief executive of the UK’s third largest care home provider. “The government restrictions at the moment are making it very difficult to give people a quality of life.”

He added: “We run care homes. We do not run prisons.”

Residents and relatives have been left distraught by the further restrictions. Before Christmas the health secretary, Sajid Javid, announced that in England any care home in outbreak should shut its doors to indoor visitors for up to 28 days after the last positive case, except for people designated as essential care givers or if a resident is at the end of life. Movements out of the care home should also be minimised, Javid said. It has meant thousands of families have only been able to see loved ones through windows or in visiting pods.

MHA, one of the largest not-for-profit providers, said on Monday that about of its care homes had had outbreaks that had restricted visiting. The Public Health Agency in Belfast reported that 120 care homes in Northern Ireland currently had outbreaks.

The reports suggest care home outbreaks in England are likely to jump sharply, from 250 as of 19 December, in the next UK Health and Security Agency figures.

But deaths from Covid in care homes in England, which accommodate 350,000 people, stood at 40 in the week to Christmas Eve, compared with a peak of about 1,800 in a week in January 2021. The latest NHS figures show 95% of care home residents in England have had two vaccine doses and 81% have been boosted.

Jenny Morrison, a co-founder of Rights for Residents campaign group, said: “The impact of loneliness and isolation has far outweighed the impact of Covid in the later part of the pandemic, so are we going to continue with these strict visiting policies? It’s completely disproportionate to what we are facing.”

Richardson said that since March 2021, 2,320 Four Seasons residents had died from all causes, and only 29 of them (1.25%) from Covid. Over that period the overall death rate has been below the four-year average prior to Covid.

Nadra Ahmed, the executive chair of the National Care Association, which represents independent operators, said more than a quarter of her members were facing staffing shortages because of the requirement to isolate for seven days after a positive PCR test. One operator has reported half of its staff off with positive tests or off sick.

“The other 50% of staff are exhausting themselves covering the shifts,” she said. Finding agency staff over Christmas was often impossible, and hourly rates had risen as high as £75, she said.

Nicola Richards, the chair of the Sheffield Care Association, said PCR test results were taking six days for staff at some local homes, which was “causing huge issues”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our priority continues to be the safety of care home residents and staff. We are doing everything we can to support care providers to facilitate safe visits.”

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