Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Homes Group (ICHG), warns that care facilities across the UK are not getting the support they require in order to protect staff and residents from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.
Padgham, who himself runs four care homes, also says he is concerned that deaths in care homes may continue to get worse before they get better and argues that the sector needs to be 'radically' reformed after the current health crisis is over.
Sputnik: Explain the current state of affairs in relation to care providers, their residents and COVID-19, including the latest figures regarding deaths and outbreaks in care homes.
Mike Padgham: Figures released [on 28 April] showed that at least 5,500 people could have died due to Covid-19 in care and nursing homes so far, according to the Care Quality Commission and Office for National Statistics.
Any death in a care or nursing home is a cause for great sadness and care providers are seeing Covid-19 take a terrible toll. These are our loved ones - mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and friends who have been taken from us early. They deserve better.
We are also greatly concerned about the danger to care staff who are now the frontline in the fight against Covid-19. We want to ensure they have the best protective equipment and effective testing to help and support them through this. They are doing an amazing job.
Sputnik: You've recently warned that the true death toll is even higher than the most recent figures given by the Office of National Statistics, why?
Mike Padgham: Due to the lag in collating these figures, we do fear that the true number of people who have died in care and nursing homes since the start of coronavirus may be higher than these figures suggest. At the same time, until we have proper Covid-19 testing on the frontline, it will remain difficult to tell exactly how many residents are dying from the virus or an unrelated cause.
It may well be that they are increasing whilst hospital deaths are falling. We hope not, but it might be that the numbers will actually be higher than the 5,500 quoted so far.
Sputnik: There are reports that some care providers which have had COVID-19 outbreaks and even COVID-19 deaths are filling their beds with new customers. Apparently local councils are unable to do anything to stop this and are asking for intervention from central government.
This would mean further vulnerable people are being potentially exposed to the virus. Can you say what you know about this and how this should be dealt with if true?
Mike Padgham: I've not come across a situation where a local authority might want to stop homes from taking new admissions, though it may vary from area to area. Certainly, the advice across the country is quite the reverse, in that local authorities are looking to care and nursing homes to keep taking new admissions from hospital to relieve pressure on NHS care. Of course, homes can’t be forced to accept new admissions.
What the ICG is asking is that testing is done when patients are discharged into care or nursing homes so that care providers know the condition of those they are caring for. We are also seeking clarity on indemnity. NHS care providers have been indemnified against action being taken against them by the relatives of those who contract Covid-19 whilst in their care. Social care providers are seeking the same indemnity from the Government.
Sputnik: Why were care providers not better prepared to deal with this pandemic, surely, they knew something like this was on the horizon?
Mike Padgham: Social care has been under-funded and under-supported now for more than 30 years and providers have been campaigning with government after government to tackle an ongoing crisis in the sector.
Some £8bn has been cut from social care since 2010 and 1.5 [million] people are now living without the care they need. All of this was BEFORE the onset of coronavirus.
Social care providers were prepared for a flu epidemic, for example, as historically the sector is experienced in barrier nursing. However, the sector could not be expected to be prepared for something of the extent of Covid-19 and all the associated PPE [Personal Protection Equipment] sourcing and stockpiling that we have needed to do. No government across the world was prepared for this pandemic.
Sputnik: Is it really the government's role to be providing this support to private businesses, and if so why?
Mike Padgham: Social care providers, some of which are charities, some of which are private businesses, are providing social care, in many cases, on behalf of local authorities so in effect are providing a public service for the Government. In that respect it seems fair that they should be eligible for some Government support, like other businesses and organisations, as they spearhead the fight against Covid-19 in care and nursing homes.
Care providers are not seeking free personal protective equipment (PPE). Whilst we can access a free emergency supply, by far the bulk of PPE used by care providers has been purchased privately. The issue has been accessing a supply in the first place and it is the availability of PPE that providers have been lobbying the Government over, rather than paying for it.
The Government is providing support to all private businesses at the current time to help them get through [the novel] coronavirus, it seems fair that they could do all they can to help care providers too.
Sputnik: Describe the difference between a care home, a nursing home, and a hospice.
Mike Padgham: A care home is a residential home where someone who needs round the clock care and can no longer live at home goes to be looked after. They may have no serious medical needs but may have dementia, for example.
A nursing home, as the name suggests, is a residential home where someone goes to live who needs nursing care as well as accommodation. They will have underlying medical needs as well as being unable to look after themselves at home. Both care and nursing homes are first and foremost the resident’s home.
A hospice provides specialist care to those suffering from life-limiting illnesses like cancer and heart disease. They provide palliative, end of life care and day care services.
Sputnik: What are you and other care providers asking for from the government?
Mike Padgham: As care and nursing homes are now the front line in the fight against Covid-19, we need greater support to protect our residents and staff. We need to see better access to Covid-19 testing, easier access to PPE and some funding support for care providers.
The Government has recognised, belatedly, social care's role in tackling Covid-19 and put up £3.2bn to help local authorities support care providers during the pandemic - £1.6bn last month and £1.6bn this month.
We need to see more of this funding support for providers who are facing huge increases in costs, for instance the costs of bringing in agency staff to cover for staff who are unwell, sick pay costs and the increasing cost of protective equipment.
Due to stopping admissions, some care homes are also seeing a dramatic reduction in income and homecare providers are suffering a reduction in contracts. We need to ensure, through auditing, that this extra money finds its way to the front line of care.
Social care needs to be put on the same footing as the NHS - after the pandemic is over we need a radical rethink of how social care is organised and financed.
The time now is to be bold. Never again should it be a Cinderella service.