THERE have been at least 17 coronavirus-related deaths in Hampshire care homes, according to new figures, amid ongoing questions over whether staff and residents have adequate protection.
The numbers from the Office for National Statistics figures, up to 10th April, led the Unison union to accuse the government of a “shambolic” approach in a week when local politicians pledged to continue lobbying for sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE).
Care firm Colten Care runs a total of 21 homes, including six in the New Forest. Its chief executive Mark Aitchison said 50 residents, around 5% of those at settings in Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire and West Sussex, were in self isolation either because of symptoms or a recent admission.
He stressed Colten was going “above and beyond” to keep residents and staff protected and observing “the most stringent protocols on pre-admission checks, visits, self-isolation and infection control”.
Mr Aitchison added: “Thanks to effective contingency planning, we are well equipped with personal protective equipment to ensure the safety of residents and staff. And we will continue to purchase what we need.
“At the same time, we know there are many vulnerable, elderly people in the communities around our homes and we are offering them the opportunity for flexible respite care during this extended period of isolation.
“We have a small percentage of residents in self-isolation either because of symptoms or a recent admission. We aim to keep that level as low as we possibly can through the rigorous protocols we have put in place.”
New Forest East MP Julian Lewis tabled questions in parliament on issues involving local companies, including on behalf of a commercial laundry operation with concerns about the lack of water soluble bags it uses to help clean care home bedding.
Dr Lewis said: “There is a sort of pattern developing where one major problem of the day emerges – and it is here I think the media play a helpful aid in helping to flag it up as a main issue.” He added that the first had been a lack of ventilators, which had been addressed.
“When you consider if there’s only been a relatively short time since Covid-19 began, I think most fair-minded people would say we have come quite a long way,” he said.
The Care Quality Commission said it has booked testing appointments for 12,422 UK adult social care provider staff and those not covered by an existing scheme, such as GPs and practice teams.
It comes after local council chiefs voiced fears over a lack of vital equipment in care homes, as reported in the A&T.
Sir Desmond Swayne, Conservative MP for New Forest West, came under fire from Liberal Democrat Cllr Jack Davies, his 2019 General Election opponent, in an email exchange in which the councillor said he was “disappointed” with the MP’s response to concerns about PPE for care staff.
Sir Desmond told the A&T he did not comment on correspondence but said: “What I will say, however, is that a number of constituents have emailed me about PPE issues and I have dealt with these by seeking to address them both locally where there has been a problem, and by making a number of suggestions and representations to ministers.”
Cllr David Harrison, spokesman for health and adult services for the Lib Dem opposition on Hampshire County Council, thought the local care home position “somewhat mixed”, but noted HCC’s director of adult services had given an assurance there were “adequate” PPE levels.
“However, I don’t think they appreciated just how much was needed, and the high demand – coupled with logistical problems – has made it much more of a challenge than anticipated,” he said.
The A&T asked HCC, which runs three care homes in the New Forest, for comment.
This article was amended on 27th April 2020 to correct the situation regarding residents with suspected cases of coronavirus at Colten Care homes.