OAKHAVEN Hospice has been forced to close to new admissions following an outbreak of Covid-19 in which 12 staff members tested positive for the virus.
After several clinical and support workers showed symptoms of the illness earlier in May, all staff from the charity operation in Pennington were tested at Lymington hospital.
Out of 80 tests, 12 proved positive, leading to the hospice closing its 10-bed in-patient unit and deep-cleaning the whole building.
Oakhaven chief executive Andrew Ryde said the outbreak had come as “a big shock”, adding: “We have asked questions about our practice but we are very confident that we have had all the right access to PPE and have followed all the guidelines about how it should be used.
“We do not know if the virus was brought in by a patient or a staff member.”
The majority of tests had taken place last week after some staff members reported suffering from coronavirus symptoms the week before, he said.
Referrals to the in-patient unit had stopped and at the time of its closure there had been only one patient there, who was due to be discharged. It is now reopening on Monday and staff are continuing to care for around 300 patients in the community.
Mr Ryde said: “Our clinical staff have been working in a very difficult and challenging environment since the start of the coronavirus.
“We have worked really hard to source the correct PPE to ensure staff were properly protected.”
Mr Ryde said he had been pressing for testing of patients and staff before the outbreak happened: “In an ideal world we would have a rolling testing programme for staff and patients which would see them being tested every week or every two weeks.
“It would also help if we could have access to the antibody test which would provide reassurance while also helping in managing staff levels.
“But we have found it difficult to access any testing for staff or patients until Lymington hospital very kindly stepped in to let us use their testing facilities after some employees displayed symptoms.”
The hospice had already taken precautions to limit the risk of coronavirus by closing its gardens and reducing visitors to the site, as well as enforcing social distancing, hand washing and other measures. Only essential staff had been working at the in-patient unit.
Mr Ryde said he felt hospices “have not necessarily been at the forefront of national testing”, with attention on hospitals and care homes.
He said: “It has been very challenging for the hospice sector as a whole. The next challenge is to be included in the use of testing.”
He said the deep cleaning had been “going well” and staff who had the virus were self-isolating at home and recovering well.
“Our main concern has been for their wellbeing. The safety of our patients, staff and visitors is of the utmost importance to us,” Mr Ryde added.
The hospice is currently in talks with the NHS about implementing an ongoing testing programme which would see all patients tested on admission and discharge.
Mr Ryde thanked the local community for supplying Oakhaven with PPE. He said: “They have been absolutely amazing in making us PPE, including scrubs and visors.”