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Council sends help to private care operators

Union calls for care homes to be run by democratically local authorities

16 April, 2020 — By Bronwen Weatherby

Liz Wheatley from Unison

COUNCIL chiefs have offered to help private operators running care homes with cash and protective equipment, amid nationwide concerns about the threat to the elderly from the coronavirus.

Support packages were agreed amid concerns that levels of care could fall as homes felt the pressure and cost of round-the-clock shielding of vulnerable residents. This follows horror stories in other parts of the country of clustered deaths at care homes where Covid-19 has beaten infection control measures.

There have been coronavirus cases at care homes in Camden, but wider outbreaks have been avoided. However, concerns remain over whether carers have access to enough PPE – personal protective equipment – as the epidemic continues with the government facing questions about how effective the supply chain is.

Liz Wheatley, branch secretary of Camden Unison, said the crisis should lead to reform, telling the New Journal: “Up and down the country, the situation in care homes is a scandal. Staff are crying out for the necessary PPE to make themselves safe and to make sure they don’t spread the coronavirus to other residents.”

She added: “We have asked for an update on the situation in Camden, but what is happening now reinforces our belief that care homes should be run by democratically accountable local authorities with staff on decent wages and with proper working conditions, not private companies who always look to see where they can make a profit.”

Sir Keir Starmer, the new Labour leader and Holborn and St Pancras MP, is understood to have talked of a new care system once the pandemic has been resolved during a Zoom videocall conference with local authority leaders yesterday (Wed­nesday). Participants talked about more state-run care. Camden confirmed last night that it was ringing all care homes on a daily basis and offering support, including financial aid.

Labour leader Councillor Georgia Gould said:  “We are asking care home managers to advise us of any difficulties or problems they experience at the earliest opportunity, so we can work with them to stop these developing into more serious issues. “A worrying issue that has been raised is a lack of Covid-19 testing kits for care home staff – this is something we’re asking the government to provide urgently to help prevent transmission.”

The council is among authorities appealing for donations of PPE – personal protective equipment – but its own supply is not thought to be as shallow as in other areas of the country.

Nationally, the government has faced calls to ensure all visiting carers and care homes have the right PPE, and test those who are directly working with older people. While there have been cases where younger people with Covid-19 have faced serious difficulties, the coronavirus is even more of a threat to over-70s and people with underlying health conditions.

A handful of private operators run care homes in Camden, with Shaw Healthcare running the council’s own re-built facilities at Maitland Park and Wellesley Road. The company said it has stopped all non-essential visiting, set up handwashing stations and is running a steering group to review what was needed as the crisis continues, adding that safety of its users and staff were the “top priority”.

Forest Healthcare, which runs the Ash Court Care Centre in Kentish Town, said it had isolated two cases where residents had started showing symptoms, adding that both appeared to have been picked it up outside the home, including one on a hospital visit. “Staff are taking extra precautions when caring for them to ensure that any possible infection is contained,” the company said.

“Clearly, this is a difficult infection to manage, particularly in an environment where you have personal care and a high proportion of residents are classed as vulnerable, but we will continue to follow best practice and government protocol to minimise the potential for a wider spread within the home.”

C&C London Homes, which manages four care homes in London including Rathmore House and Compton Lodge in Camden said: “We continue to adhere to strict infection control protocols, the latest government guidelines and our own Covid-19 Management Plan in order to minimise the risk to our residents and our staff.”

Cllr Gould said: “Our care homes and all their staff are doing a fantastic job, a vital job, in really difficult circumstances and we are doing all we can to ensure they have the support they need to look after our residents in this crisis. “We will continue ti work closely with all care homes in Camden to keep their service users and staff safe.”

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