‘We can only do so much’: Care homes tell of battle to protect residents and staff

PUBLISHED: 08:23 06 May 2020 | UPDATED: 08:52 06 May 2020

Dorrington House, Dereham. Pictured are owners Steve and Lorraine Dorrington. Picture: Ian Burt

Dorrington House, Dereham. Pictured are owners Steve and Lorraine Dorrington. Picture: Ian Burt


Norfolk’s care homes have revealed the range of measures they are having to take to keep residents and staff alive and well in the coronavirus crisis.

The latest ONS figures show the CQC has reported more than 4,300 deaths in care homes. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoThe latest ONS figures show the CQC has reported more than 4,300 deaths in care homes. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Among steps taken include checking residents’ temperatures twice a day - and turning a hair salon into a changing room to reduce potential contamination.

New figures revealed a further 18 people died from coronavirus last week in Norfolk’s care homes, bringing the number of coronavirus-related fatalities since April 10 to 49.

Nationally, the Office for National Statistics’ weekly figures showed an additional 2,000 deaths were reported in care homes in England between April 25 and May 1, based on data from the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Steve Dorrington, who runs care homes in Watton, Dereham and Wells, is among those who spoke of the challenges to continue keeping the virus out.

Martin Rix, chief operating officer of NorseCare. Picture: NorseCareMartin Rix, chief operating officer of NorseCare. Picture: NorseCare

The care home owner said testing was important for reassuring staff, residents and relatives and shared his concerns about ensuring those readmitted into homes had been tested.

Mr Dorrington said: “You are checked when you go in but they do not always get checked when they bring people back. That’s the danger point.

“It’s very difficult for staff at the hospital who are also under pressure. We need to insist on the testing to reassure not just them, but others too.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock addressed growing concerns about care homes, saying the government had “strengthened the rules” around discharging patients from hospital to care homes.

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In his homes, Mr Dorrington said staff carried out health checks including temperature checks before they left home.

Read more: 18 new coronavirus deaths in Norfolk care homes

Residents also received temperature checks twice a day and he was looking at introducing other tests as part of tracking and preventing measures.

In addition, homemade laundry bags have been made by Dereham’s Tangent Club for all 64 members of staff to transport uniform and put straight in the washing machine.

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He said: “We do our best to be accountable: at the end of the day, they can catch it from anywhere.

“We have changed the hair studio into somewhere the staff can change out of their uniform so they do not pick it up walking home or going to the shops. We can only do so much.

“It’s really hard people being isolated at a very difficult time in their lives. We try to reassure them it will soon be over.”

Read more: Coronavirus: How key workers can get tested for Covid-19

At NorseCare’s homes, new temporary measures include limited visiting, unless under exceptional circumstances, and reduced usage of communal areas.

Martin Rix, chief operating officer, said it was trying to make use of audio and video technology to allow its residents to stay in contact with family as well as accessing the gardens.

Relatives praised the actions of staff from Lloyd Court in Holt, Harriet Court, Norwich and Westfields in Swaffham.

Mr Rix added: “Our fantastic staff have responded to this in the most incredible way, going above and beyond to enable residents and tenants to have the highest possible quality of life during the pandemic, despite the huge challenges we are facing.”

Read more: Hospital hails ‘morale boost’ after iPad donation for coronavirus patients

On access to personal protective equipment (PPE), the chief operating officer said the provider was “on the front foot early” to ensure supplies.

The NorseCare officer said everything was being kept under review.

He added: “I think it is too early to tell if we are over the peak in care. Much depends on the national picture and the implementation of additional safety measures like increased testing and safer admissions.”

Four Seasons Care Homes (FSCH), which has four care homes in Norfolk, has an initiative where residents receive cards and letters from the local community.

Since the start of the pandemic the provider has seen 387 Covid-19 fatalities across its 187 homes.

Read more: Inside a Norfolk care home in lockdown

An FSCH spokesperson said: “These are challenging times for anyone working in care and we are very sensitive to the mental health needs of our care teams and we are doing everything we can to support them.”

Meanwhile, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital yesterday confirmed three more coronavirus deaths, taking the death toll in the county’s hospitals to 293.

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