Distressed families have been unable to visit their relatives in some residential care homes as a second round of restrictions have been introduced at sites across Thanet and nationally.
The shielding measures, brought in at the start of the pandemic, were eased from July but rising infection rates in September prompted a number of homes to reinstate them.
But decisions are being made by individual homes rather than being set by Kent’s health bosses or government meaning measures vary wildly, from one site allowing ‘end of life’ visits only to another maintaining outdoor contact as long as visitors are temperature tested and wearing appropriate PPE.
One woman says her former partner, who suffers with dementia and is at a setting in Broadstairs, was isolated in his room for 14 days after a return from hospital with no understanding of what was happening to him and no option for her to visit. She says when his isolation finished she was told she still could not see him because additional restrictions had been brought in.
She said: “I understand the need for isolation but he had no contact with the outside world by phone or tablet or visits, and had no opportunity for mental stimulation or exercise and his room is dark, small, with no armchair and smells of his pee.
“The fear of a loved one, mine included, inadvertently contracting Covid 19 in a care home setting is a severe concern, no thanks to the laissez-faire attitude of our Government.
“I was devastated at the latest lockdown news and lack of provision to have been able to have a brief safe outdoor visit after he had emerged from quarantine.”
‘Need for guidance’
A Ramsgate care manager told The Isle of Thanet News that there needs to be proper guidance for restrictions. At the home she works in, one dementia sufferer’s relative gets tests with the staff so she can continue visits. The manager said homes should insist on a Covid test before any resident returns from hospital, reducing the need for isolation to around a day while waiting for results.
She said: “There should be guidance because everyone is doing different things. It needs to be uniform but we have not been given direction.
“We made the decision once the R rate started going back up. We have to protect our people but the protection has to include visits because otherwise there is a decline in residents in their golden years and we do not know what time they have left.”
The manager said there is also extra pressure on staff. She said: “Staff are told not to go to the shops or anywhere on the way to work, they wear civvies and then change when they arrive, have temperatures taken and, weekly, have the tests which are quite invasive.”
She says staff are also being pushed to get flu jabs.
Getting tests delivered and receiving results is still an issue. A backlog in the ordering system in August is continuing, meaning some homes are unable to comply with government protocols for testing residents monthly and staff weekly.
County councillor Karen Constantine said central government needs to provide area by area guidance.
She added: “They seem to have devolved responsibility to local authorities and health bodies, creating the potential for different standards and confusion. Despite the welcome reassurances I have received from Andrew Scott-Clark, Director of Public Health, regarding Thanet care homes I suggest that they offer unambiguous guidance and 100% support to managers, staff, residents, and relatives so that everyone understands how any increase in the R rate in Thanet, or rise in cases will be managed safety.”
Thanet infection rates remain low
Kent’s director of Public Health Andrew Scott-Clark said the current rate of infection of COVID-19 remains low in Thanet, but in the case of any outbreak the authority would stop new residents and visitors entering a home to reduce risk.
A Kent County Council (KCC) spokesperson said: “The safety of all our residents remains a priority for Kent County Council, and we continue to work closely with our health partners and all care home providers in Kent to support them, their residents and families through the Covid-19 pandemic.
“KCC advises all care home providers to individually risk assess their homes as they are each unique with different client groups and different layouts and also some may have Covid-19 positive residents to consider whilst others may not.
“We continually monitor the local Covid-19 situation and if warranted, while working alongside Public Health England and the NHS, we would offer advice and support to our care homes and care providers to stop visits to minimise the risk of infection to residents, staff and visitors.”
The government’s adult social care winter plan announced last month includes a £546 million Infection Control Fund, free PPE for all adult social care providers and care workers through to March 2021, the banning of all but essential movement of staff between care homes and advice for extra precautions such as supervision of visitors to make sure social distancing and infection prevention and control measures are followed.