Tag Archives: covid19

Suffolk Care Home Outbreaks

EU compliant PPE sent as a gift to Woodbridge from friends in China. The world has worried about us

Suffolk’s LibDem, Green and Independent group have been  regularly quizzing those in charge of the County’s Social Care and Public Health about  the state of Suffolk care homes. We have been increasingly concerned  about the high proportion of Suffolk Care homes with Covid outbreaks (much higher than in Norfolk or Cambridgeshire).

I first raised the issue of peripatetic care staff back in mid-April.  Does county keep records of carers and other staff moving between different care locations?  My concern was that carers and support staff might unwittingly spread infection between these locations.  If you only test people with symptoms (and then only those in hospital), we were clearly likely to miss out on routes of transmission.
The answer? No records were kept:  that infection  control is managed best  through proper use of PPE . It was therefore more effective to monitor use of PPE rather than monitor staff movements, I was told.
But of course the advice to care homes  was to rely on handwashing and professionalism in most situations. Minimal  PPE was required, unless Covid-19 had been diagnosed.  And tests only happened in hospital. So what sort of answer was that?
Again – as with mask usage – it seems that there has been a desire at all levels to confuse the issue of infection and transmission –  and to assert that handwashing and professionalism  is  enough of a defence against coronavirus, no matter where peripatetic staff  may travel in the course of a day.
Now I do not question for one moment the professionalism. I absolutely believe in the handwashing. But there has been an abnormally high  level of outbreak in Suffolk care homes. Clearly we needed more.
Today my group has taken our outrage to the press:
“Failing to test patients being discharged from hospital, and then placing these patients into care homes, is irresponsible beyond belief. We are very concerned that this occurred in Suffolk, and that this seems to account for the much higher proportion of Suffolk care homes with outbreaks compared to Norfolk and Cambridge,.”
“Even if this was allowed by national policy, the CCGs did not themselves consider the risks to our care home residents. Their decision to block-book beds in care homes to facilitate the discharge of patients from hospital is equally to blame.
“Care homes have been the hidden crisis of this pandemic. It is shocking  that elderly care home residents, who are in the high-risk category and should have been fiercely protected by the authorities, have instead been exposed to the virus.
The risks to care homes were clear from countries like Italy, and yet this Government failed to learn from their experiences and instead put care homes directly into danger by allowing hospitals to discharge potentially infectious patients.”
In Suffolk we didn’t do nearly enough to stop this.

Pandemic-invisibility: Suffolk, Covid & unpaid Carers

Despite the Covid pandemic ,it seems that Suffolk’s family carers remain officially hidden, and officially unsupported. In this county – as in this country – this is a disgrace.

A recent SCC briefing on the subject merely said: “One of the challenges at this time is helping carers to explore the options for having a care ‘back-up’ or contingency plan, should circumstances change and alternative care be necessary for the cared for adult.  While not new to discussions with carers, the prospect of carers knowing people in their network, or community is especially important during a pandemic of this sort. “ In other words: “Hop to it, Cinderella! Go find your replacement!”

Disingenuously, this  wording suggests that a full-time  unpaid family carer has made a positive career decision and  is actually in the position to form a strong support network within their community and to leverage it to the unlimited free care cover that the state has expected from them. I cannot tell you how angry this makes me.

So, who will elect to do this massive amount of care unpaid? How many senior members of county or country administration will come forward and publicly commit to taking over the unpaid, unacknowledged 24/7 care of an anonymous local resident with significant needs? Don’t all shout at once, eh?

Come off it! We all know it is not a realistic plan for the county ( or indeed the country)  to expect  unpaid carers to source other replacement unpaid carers to cover their own isolation/ sickness/death from Covid19 on top of everything else they do.To articulate this expectation is not only unrealistic, it is inappropriate in the extreme.

At the best it can only put extra stress on already over-stressed individuals. At the worst it might make them lose all hope. How will – how can – a sole carer looking after eg a spinally complicated quadriplegic do this? Or the elderly, physically frail, carer of a partner with dementia?  Or the unacknowledged child carer of a troubled adult?

We should be deeply disturbed that Suffolk’s message is that if you are a lone and unsupported carer, looking after somebody who is vulnerable because the state is not coming forward to assist, the county merely reiterates that it is this carer’s responsibility to  go out and find someone else to look after (for free) the person they care for (for love and duty).

This briefing is a distancing manoeuvre rather than practical help in a pandemic.  More, it is a gross abrogation of moral responsibility by authorities elected to safeguard our society.

Worryingly, Suffolk’s Plan B seems to be to tell concerned councillors “If you are worried about an individual, do report them to Home But Not Alone.”

But what about all those who are under the radar? I am not concerned about ‘an individual’. If I know about ‘an individual’ it is possible to provide support. I am worried about all those other individuals – the sole carer of a spinally complicated quadriplegic, say, the elderly, physically frail, carer of a partner with dementia, the unacknowledged child carer of a troubled adult- that we simply do not know – the ones who are home alone.

CarersUK estimates there were 8.8million unpaid carers in the UK in 2019: 13% of the population. That’s approx 100,000 Suffolk carers (possibly more as Suffolk has an older population than the country as a whole). Suffolk Family Carers confirm they only have 14,000 of these carers on their books – and this includes people like me, whose maximum caring responsibilities are currently reduced.

The state has no official method of identifying family carers beyond whether they claim Carers Allowance or not. But many carers are not eligible (students, pensioners, people earning more than £120 per week, children ,etc).  Within the unidentified category are many of the most vulnerable: lone parents of disabled children; hidden child carers of adults with poor physical or mental health or addiction issues; and older persons looking after older partners/spouses, both with poor health – and all of these caring 24/7. Such carers have increasingly frail support networks, particularly vulnerable to breakdown at this time. Many are living lives of quiet desperation.

In my own 20 years’ experience as 24/7 unpaid family carer, no elected body, either local or national, has wished to challenge or address these statistics because it leaves them obliged to recognise the magnitude of the underlying problem. (And deal with it. )They edge away like a cat that has inadvertently put its paw near something strong-smelling.

SO  can we do anything? I believe  we can! Suffolk  – at county, district, ccg and other levels, has various lists which would allow an overarching interest (should one exist!)  to piece together a patchwork index of vulnerable persons. No, not the 1.5 million shielded people  –  of whom I am one. We may be vulnerable  to covid, but often far from vulnerable financially or societally. The real vulnerable people. I  urge our county – as I urge our country – to go further and ask each individual parish to start at once to try and identify their f local hidden carers- house by house, street by street – and report back. We could ask  the media to get involved and make this a whole-county initiative. Better, a whole country one.

Many family carers are invisible behind closed doors. We must identify them, because otherwise, while our society is under its current great stress , they can literally be dying behind closed doors, unsupported.