A social care leader is calling for an urgent and specific support package for struggling care homes and homecare companies across Carmarthenshire – including an about turn on the decision to refuse to give them swabs to test for coronavirus.
Sanjiv Joshi, Managing Director of the Caron Group, which has 14 care homes across South and West Wales, including Cartref Annwyl Fan Care Home, at Betws, near Ammanford, has backed a call by Care Forum Wales for more help.
Mr Joshi, a CFW Board member, said: “We need to be able to swab test our staff who may be showing symptoms of the virus – at the moment if they are showing symptoms they are being asked to follow Government advice and self-isolate.
“There is currently no testing available to us and the problem is that many of the symptoms of the coronavirus like a cough or a fever are very similar to those of other seasonal afflictions like the common cold.
“Without testing staff may be self-isolating and unable to work for seven days but if we could swab test early they could be back on the front line in two days to look after our residents.”
Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, said many of the organisation’s 450 members who provide care for 20,000 vulnerable were striving to cope with the massive and unprecedented pressures caused by the outbreak.
The Welsh Government, he said, should then do “whatever it takes” and make social care a special case for support because it was a business like no other, with lives at stake.
Mr Joshi added: “Our staff and managers are working flat out to try to keep people safe, and to plan for the inevitable times when our staff – and maybe even some residents – become ill with the virus.
“At the moment we are having to isolate residents with symptoms and barrier nursing is intensive, time-consuming and a drain on resources and without testing we don’t even know if it is appropriate.
“If we were able to test people they could be released back into the carehome community if they are clear and that would free up desperately needed beds which would help the NHS who are trying so hard to discharge patients into our homes.
“The NHS is on a war footing to create capacity and we can help them with that if we are able to test and if they can test patients being discharged it will give us the confidence that we are not importing the virus into our homes.
“All the people we look after are vulnerable, and at risk of serious complications or even death, were they to contract Covid-19.”
At present there is no testing available to care homes and Mr Joshi issued a plea to laboratories and organisations that might be able to offer a same-day testing service to speed up the process of identifying victims of the virus.
He said: “We do not want our residents to be isolated unnecessarily from their friends and families, but without a test we simply cannot take the risk of letting anyone into the homes, unless it is absolutely necessary, and that includes staff who need to work.
Meanwhile Mr Kreft is writing to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and First Minister Mark Drakeford to say it was vital they made care homes and domiciliary care a special case.
He said: “It is of course important to prop up all areas of the economy including tourism and hospitality but social care really needs to be made a special case for a specific support package because our fantastic and dedicated staff are on the frontline dealing with life and death situations.
“The social care sector provides care for 20,000 vulnerable people in care homes across Wales – that’s 8,000 more than the NHS – so the scale of the crisis facing our members and their heroic staff is enormous.
“As well as supporting the sector in the short-term, it’s also vital that care homes and domiciliary care homes survive in the longer-term because the need for them is not going to go away.
“The vast majority of the social care in Wales is publicly funded and commissioned by health boards and local authorities so there is an obligation on them to provide the necessary resources at this time of unique need.
“We’re looking for an announcement from the Chancellor that the Welsh Government is going to get the resources it needs, one that is specific to social care, specific to what are we going to do to ensure that care homes can meet the challenge that they are facing in terms of the equipment, in terms of the extra staffing, in terms of all the things that couldn’t possibly be envisaged to fall on small and medium enterprises.”
According to Mr Kreft a similar picture was emerging in England where the UK Home Care Association had mirrored their concerns.
The association’s chief executive Dr Jane Townson said: “We are desperately worried about the ability of care providers to remain solvent, whilst paying unprecedented numbers of care workers who are sick or self-isolating.
“Councils and the NHS only pay for care delivered. They will not pay for care workers who are prevented from working. People who buy their own homecare will not be able to bear the additional cost of staff absence.”
Mr Joshi added that he was also worried about supplies of single-use personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and aprons, which our staff use when caring for residents
He said: “Our NHS is going to come under tremendous pressure in the coming weeks and we want to play our role in assisting with admissions into our homes but our priority has to be to protect our communities and we need these resources and help now – not next week or next month.”