WATCH: See inside Norfolk’s new centre for people recovering from coronavirus
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More must be done to protect people in Norfolk’s care homes, with testing for the staff caring for vulnerable people still far too patchy, the county’s director of adult social services has warned.
As a new centre for people recovering from the virus gets ready to open, Norfolk County Council’s James Bullion said lives have been put at risk.
He said the government should have had coronavirus testing in place sooner for people returning to care homes after being discharged from hospital.
And Mr Bullion, also president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, remains worried the promised testing for staff who work in care homes, is still not widespread, despite the government’s announcements over testing.
He said: “Everybody who is discharged to the centre will have been tested, but what we have not got enough of yet is staff testing.
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“We will be offering staff testing within a matter of weeks, but I think it is a concern, and one that we need addressed nationally.
“I am convinced that staff will feel more reassured if they can get those tests. I have a real sense of urgency to get that up and running.
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“Staff testing was offered from the middle of April, but still is not widespread and that must mean that the risk of asymptomatic staff spreading has been present when it shouldn’t be.
“That is not a criticism of the local NHS, but a criticism of central government for not having seen these needs.
“I know that ADASS produced a report in 2018, after the Cygnus planning exercise and it is a surprise that many of the recommendations which were made were not employed.”
Steven Dorrington, who runs care homes in Watton, Dereham and Wells, which have stayed coronavirus free, said it was time care homes were trusted to conduct their own tests.
He said: “Now that we know what we are supposed to be doing, I would like to see us trusted to carry out our own tests on staff. I’ve had a test myself, so I know what it’s like.
“We could have the tests done for staff and for residents, give it to a courier, have it taken to be tested and could then get the results emailed back.”
Mr Bullion said there was now “sufficient” personal protective equipment for care homes, but problems getting it could have been avoided had the government funded it and left local councils to source it.
He was speaking as Cawston Lodge gets ready to accept its first patients. The £800,000 centre, in a former care home, will serve as a step down centre for patients with the virus after they are discharged from the county’s hospitals.
Initially opening for 10 patients on Wednesday, it will have capacity for up to 45 patients, pending Norfolk County Council successfully recruiting staff.
Norfolk is getting £12.3m from the government’s £600m infection control care homes funding pot. Three quarters will go straight to care homes to help them with safe working and the remaining quarter would be used by the council according to its priorities,
But Mr Bullion criticised the government for not heeding warnings over the impact the virus would have on care homes.
He said: “I think, up until April 16, people were regularly being discharged either back home or to care homes without having been tested. That must have led to some level of risk and to outbreaks.”
In Norfolk, 77 people living in care homes died after contracting coronavirus between April 10 and May 8. Between 15pc to 20pc of homes have coronavirus cases.
Mr Bullion said the step down centre would play an important role in easing pressure on care homes.
The council is still trying to recruit more people to work in Cawston Lodge, with up to 120 jobs available.
The government says its online portal makes it easier for care homes to get test kits delivered.
They say from early June up to 30,000 tests per day will be delivered at care homes, with swab kits couriered directly to care homes and taken back to laboratories.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We have set out a comprehensive action plan to support the adult social care sector in England throughout the coronavirus outbreak, including ramping up testing capacity and making it easier for all care home staff and residents to get a test.
“Throughout this unprecedented global pandemic, we have been working closely with the sector and public health experts to put in place guidance and support at the right time for adult social care to prevent and control outbreaks.
“Two thirds of England’s care homes have had no outbreak at all and we will continue to ensure they have everything they need to stay safe.”