Call for care homes to be brought in-house as total number of outbreak deaths remains unknown
'The average care home worker gets just over £11 an hour, while the top director at one company got £250,000 last year'
23 May, 2020 — By Bronwen Weatherby
Unison’s Liz Wheatley
CARE homes should be nationalised, trade unions have argued, as the true number of coronavirus deaths in Camden remains unknown.
The calls for a shake-up in accountability comes amid difficulty in piecing together an accurate picture of how the outbreak has affected 11 care homes in the borough.
Yesterday (Wednesday) the relatives of a pensioner who died in one of the homes earlier this month contacted the New Journal and said they had been given mixed messages over whether she had been infected or not, but her death had ultimately not been recorded as being due to Covid-19.
This follows a similar trend for other families who say they have been given unclear explanations as to whether coronavirus had caused their loved one’s death, including relatives of Lillian Butt who had been staying at the Ash Court Care Home in Kentish Town.
The New Journal reported how they felt they may never get an answer. There has been no virus testing in other cases, leading staff at some homes to suspect the true figures are higher than official records.
Last week, Public Health England released data which said there had been outbreaks at all 11 care homes in Camden, although the council said there had only been deaths at 10.
The summary information from the council has been that there has been a low number in each home, but at Wellesley Road care home in Gospel Oak insiders have previously spoken about their concerns that as many as eight deaths could have been due to coronavirus but not registered in this way.
For many weeks at the start of the nationwide outbreak, care home deaths were not given in figures released by the government at their daily press briefings.
Although they are run privately, Camden has offered all care homes help with PPE (personal protective equipment) for staff and checked in with daily calls.
Liz Wheatley, Camden Unison branch secretary, said: “One of the outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic is that it has highlighted how care homes need to be democratically run by local authorities. Care homes are essential parts of any decent society, they should be run for people not profit.”
“The average care home worker gets just over £11 an hour, while the top director at one company got £250,000 last year. It’s clear where the money is going. They should be brought back under democratic control and run by local authorities.”
In recent weeks, several Labour politicians have talked about the need for a national care system, run in a similar way to the NHS, while Tory peer Baroness Ros Altman also suggested care homes “might need to be nationalised”.
Camden handed the management of its two care homes, Wellesley Road and Maitland Park, to private contractors Shaw Healthcare when the homes were rebuilt eight years ago. The other nine are run in fully private operations.
Among care homes who answered the New Journal’s requests for clearer details, Jewish Care’s Sidney Corob House confirmed two of their residents passed away in hospital after testing positive for Covid-19. Forest Healthcare, which runs Ash Court, said there have been suspected and confirmed cases of Covid-19 among their residents and a small number have died.
“Out of respect for the dignity and privacy of every resident and their families, we do not believe that it is appropriate to reduce these people to statistics, but have reported to external agencies as required,” a spokesperson said.
One Housing, who provide care to residents in Lime Tree Gardens in Kentish Town, and Camden Park House in Camden Town, said they were referring incidents to the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Others did not respond to queries asking for further figures, although Shaw have previously confirmed three residents had died at Wellesley Road.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he “bitterly regretted” the spread of the disease in care homes. Across the country, it is estimated there have now been 10,000 deaths in care homes. A key area of concern is reports that coronavirus patients were discharged from hospital back into care homes.
Camden’s social services chief, Councillor Pat Callaghan, said: “We need a new society that recognises key frontline workers, one that properly funds an integrated social care system. We want to build a compassionate model of care which will tackle isolation. Services designed by councils around residents’ needs.”