'No excuses' for increase in Covid care home deaths, says UNISON
Piers Meyler, Local Democracy Reporter
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There are “no excuses” for an acute increase in the number of deaths seen in care homes in Essex over the past week, trade union UNISON has said.
Essex saw the second highest death toll in care homes last week – surpassed by Norfolk just by one.
The increase is from 88 over the week to January 22 to 102 to the week ending January 29 – an increase in deaths of 16 percent, also one of the highest in England.
Responding to the latest Office for National Statistics figures, UNISON Eastern head of social care Caroline Hennessy said: “Nearly a year into this pandemic there are no excuses for the rising death tolls in Essex’s care homes.
“Behind these grim statistics are hundreds more mourning friends and relatives they haven’t been allowed to see since last March.
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“Care providers must take their share of the blame for these tragedies.
“We know that many providers are failing to look after their staff properly, failing to pay workers in full when they’re off sick with Covid or self-isolating, despite government guidance – and cash to back it up – making it clear staff shouldn’t lose out.
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“Essex County Council must ensure the infection control fund is used properly to make sure care staff can help stop the spread of Covid.”
Councillor John Spence, cabinet member for health and adult social care, said the comments were “disappointing”.
He said: “The last year has been extremely challenging for our care providers and their employees, who are working tirelessly to keep many of the county’s most vulnerable people safe.
“This is a difficult, challenging and ever changing situation for care providers and it is therefore disappointing to see comments condemning those supporting our most vulnerable, rather than supporting them.
“It is a sad fact that the new variant has proved particularly infectious. Levels of infections in the community reached heights not previously seen during the Covid-19 crisis and it was bound to be the case that members of staff and others entering care homes would bring the infection with them.
“Once in the homes it was almost impossible for providers and staff to isolate residents.
“One death due to Covid-19 is one too many, however, it is important to recognise that Essex is the second largest authority in the country and has an older population than average, which needs to be taken into consideration when comparing figures.
“We have provided a range of support to the care market throughout the pandemic, including funding to help support infection control in care homes, and a range of additional financial support to meet the costs related to Covid-19.
“It is up to each individual provider to decide how the money we allocate to them is used, within the guidance and conditions we have set. These conditions are clear that the funding can be used for supporting people who are self-isolating to be paid at full pay.
“There are also a range of other uses for the funding. We do not have the powers to mandate on a case-by-case basis how providers use this.
“In addition to this significant financial support, ECC has been providing extra funding to city, districts and boroughs in the county to help people who need to self-isolate to stay at home with a £500 grant per person. The £3 million funding is to ensure that those that must stay at home are given the financial means to do so.
“We will continue to work with providers, UNISON and partners to ensure all residents in our care homes are safe, healthy and happy.”
Essex has seen 676 deaths from Covid-19 in care homes since the start of the pandemic – also one the highest. It also has one of the biggest populations with almost 1.5 million residents.
The increase in deaths comes as ECC agrees on which care homes should be used to accommodate elderly people discharged from hospital in a bid to stop a repeat of the high death toll seen in care homes during the first wave.
Six care homes – Great Horkesley Manor in Colchester; The Cedars in Halstead; Ramsey Manor in Harwich; Abbotts in Harlow; Forest Place in Buckhurst Hill and Longwood in Langdon Hills – will be able to provide 132 places at a cost of £4 million.
Revised modelling – based on the increased hospital admissions for Covid-19 – now indicates that another 118 beds may be needed, although are yet to be identified.
However the death toll has already surpassed the first wave death toll figure of around 245 which in the second wave now stands at around 310.