By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan and Kathy Bailes
A Kent councillor has called for a public inquiry into deaths in care homes attributed to coronavirus.
Margate and Cliftonville county councillor Barry Lewis (Lab) wants questions answered about the decision not to “shield” older people from Covid-19 sooner and the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for care home staff.
The care home has staff trained in specialist needs, such as dementia care and learning disability, as well as sensory impairments and Parkinson’s. It falls in the Cliftonville West ward which has recorded the highest number of Covid-related deaths in Thanet with 13 registered up until April 17, far more than any other Thanet area.
Kent County Council delivered PPE including 3,000 surgical masks, 9,000 gloves, and 3,000 aprons, to the home on April 8.
The home has now applied for retests for all staff and residents and there is also support from a multidisciplinary team of staff the clinical commissioning group responsible for Thanet, local health professionals and KCC commissioners. A weekly meeting will be held with the home manager, area manager and business owner “until it is no longer required”. The CCG also co-ordinates daily strategy meetings to support all local care homes including Grosvenor Court.
Support offered includes clinical advice, infection control, commissioning, access to case management and signposting key guidance as and when it is produced.
A spokesman for health watchdog the Care Quality Commission said the organisation was aware of the Covid outbreak at Grosvenor Court and had offered support.
He said care home bosses and staff had “done everything within their power” to deal with the virus, seeking help from Public Health England, Kent and Medway CCG, the CQC and Kent County Council.
Cllr Lewis told the Local Democracy Reporting service: “Questions need to be asked in order to learn from these mistakes in the future. We have a right to know these answers.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week claimed that the Government had put a “protective ring” around care homes amid the crisis as he defended Whitehall’s record during a Downing Street daily news briefing.
More than 11,000 people have died from coronavirus in care homes across the UK.
Figures by the government show up to May 8 but registered up to May 16, Thanet has suffered 110 covid-related deaths including 40 registered by care homes.
Data released on May 21 by Public Health England shows Thanet has recorded nine covid break outs in care homes. However, a home is only counted once even if it has more than one break out. The data says 13.8% of Thanet’s 65 care home facilities have had an outbreak.
Under any inquiry, Thanet’s Cllr Lewis (pictured) said questions should be asked around the decision to send hospital patients back to care homes before being tested.
He added: “Thousands of people have died in care homes Was it possible for them to be treated in hospitals with intensive care equipment rather than remaining in the homes?”
Kent County Council (KCC) has delivered around 2.4million items of PPE to local key workers over the last two months, including gloves, aprons, hand sanitisers and masks.
County Hall has spent around £7million on the equipment from its Covid-19 emergency budget, which has included around £67million of Government grant cash.
On May 1, KCC’s leader Roger Gough (Con) said: “We will not let up in our focus to procure and deliver supplies to support the safe provision of services to the most vulnerable people in the county.”
However, KCC’s health and overview scrutiny committee chairman, Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con), said there should be a probe into Kent’s handling of the coronavirus in the near future.
He recently told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “There is some discussion that there could be a further spike in October and November.
“It’s critical that we learn all the lessons we can from the current experience and have a clear plan in place for any potential repetition.
“Personal protective equipment (PPE) is an example where things have not gone as well as they should.”
Calls for answers have intensified after recommendations from a government pandemic exercise involving Kent Resilience Forum were not applied to the current crisis.
KCC’s main opposition leader Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem) said: “I think we need to look very carefully at lessons learnt from previous pandemic exercises such as Exercise Cygnus.”
Government funding for care homes
On May 15 the government announced a new £600 million Infection Control Fund to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in care homes, in addition to £3.2 billion of financial support made available to local authorities to support key public services since the start of the crisis.
The fund, which is ringfenced for social care, will be given to local authorities to ensure care homes can continue to halt the spread of coronavirus by helping them cover the costs of implementing measures to reduce transmission.
Care homes will be asked to restrict permanent and agency staff to working in only one care home wherever possible. The funding could be used to meet the additional costs of restricting staff to work in one care home and pay the wages of those self-isolating.
The money will be paid in two equal instalments to local authorities and sums are allocated according to the number of care home beds in each area.
For Kent, which has 14,579 registered care beds, the cash award is £18,877,765.