‘Sitting ducks’ - Norfolk’s care homes brace for impact of the coronavirus outbreak
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Care home bosses in Norfolk say they feel like “sitting ducks” as they brace for the impact of the outbreak of coronavirus on their residents, staff and families.
Residential and nursing home owners pleaded the government to prioritise testing for care home residents and urged ministers to “give us a fighting chance”.
It comes as fears mount over a lack of PPE and follows the news that four residents from the same home in Lowestoft have now died from the coronavirus outbreak.
And new figures have revealed the death toll across the UK, as of April 3, included just two-thirds of those who had died of Covid-19.
The government’s daily deaths tally includes just those who lost their lives to the virus while in hospital - but data from the Office for National Statistics, which is released weekly, showed that there were 6,235 deaths involving the virus up to April 3 (registered up to April 11) anywhere in England and Wales compared to 4,093 in hospitals at the same stage.
The calls for testing in homes follows government guidelines published this month stating “as part of the national effort, Covid-19 patients can be admitted into care homes and “safely cared for if guidance is followed”.
John Dupuis, who owns and manages Elsenham House Care Home, in Cromer, said: “Testing would be so helpful - it would relieve that pressure on us.
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“We’re just sat here like sitting ducks, waiting for anything to help, and hoping that this thing will blow away and go away.”
He added that “serious figures” of NHS staff were off work due to social distancing requirements, and added: “We depend on social workers and care coordinators all the time. It’s in the police, it’s in social services - it’s everywhere.
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“We should really be serious about getting these antibody tests so we can safely get people back to work. It’s getting critical.
“In mental health care you have to be able to react immediately and that has repercussions on the wellbeing of the person concerned and other persons around them.
“These are the frustrations that we have to deal with”.
And Steve Dorrington, who runs three care homes in Dereham, Watton and Wells, said he could not source any PPE via his usual suppliers, due to soaring demand for the equipment for NHS staff.
“You can’t get anything at the moment through normal routes,” he said. “A lot of suppliers have redirected to the NHS - they’ve been working flat out. They can’t make or distribute quick enough.”
But while Mr Dorrington praised the county council and the Norfolk Resilience Forum (NRF) for keeping their supplies topped up, he stressed: “We want to keep our PPE for confirmed cases.
“We’ve had some suspected cases - with temperatures - and they were isolated.
“We’re taking the necessary precautions and using the PPE we’re given by the NRF.
“But if we could test, that would give us a fighting chance. We’re dealing with very frail people.”
Care staff at Mr Dorrington’s homes have also been affected, with changes including:
• Temperature checks when they arrive for a shift,
•Changing into uniforms onsite,
• Wearing masks, on top of usual plastic aprons and gloves,
• Not being allowed to leave the premises during their breaks,
• And being told not to hug their families when not at work.
Mr Dorrington said: “If you go home as a carer and members of your family have been exposed, if they’re close with those people, touching and hugging, they could pass it among themselves.
“I’d like to join the group calling for the tests. It’s very difficult because we don’t know who has it.
“It’s just not been prioritised.”
And he warned he could see hospitals not accepting care home residents as Covid-19 patients if the rise in infections continues, adding: “They’ll be discharging people with positive cases before long if it doesn’t improve.”
While families of those living in residential care, also shared their fears over the spread of the virus.
Adrian Young-Yallop, whose 66-year-old mum Marian is in a care home, said: “I’m concerned about testing and self-isolating with regard to my mum.
“She is vulnerable and had some respiratory difficulties but the only way she can be tested is if she is admitted to hospital.”
He added: “We can’t see our relatives because of the lockdown so if anything happens to her we’re not able to see her.”
While Ryan Shepherd, 25, a former care worker, praised staffs’ efforts, and said: “They’ve got to keep going to work every day, doing 14 hour shifts and putting their lives on the line.
“People are still getting up and doing those shifts to look after other peoples’ families.”