Virus-hit care homes are struggling to pay “unsustainable” prices for personal protective equipment as they try to shield staff and vulnerable residents from coronavirus (Covid-19), an industry association claims.
The spotlight has shifted to Britain’s social care sector after industry bosses said daily death tolls are “airbrushing out” hundreds of older people who have died in the care system.
The UK’s largest operator said Covid-19 had invaded around two-thirds of its homes while the chief executive of Care England said thousands are showing symptoms and there are “thousands of people who’ve died”.
Nadra Ahmed, chair of the National Care Association, said the government had removed VAT on essential personal protective equipment (PPE) kit for the NHS but claimed it had not done the same for the social care sector.
Ahmed said one provider had paid £8,500 for just one week’s worth of PPE, describing it as “unsustainable”, and told ITV’s Good Morning Britain (GMB): “To be told at the very beginning of this by our suppliers that all supplies were being requisitioned to the NHS, which we absolutely understand … but what did it do for our sector?
“Absolutely nothing but drive the prices up. My mailbag is absolutely full every single day with members asking us where they can get PPE.
“If the social care sector fails, if there is provider failure, the problem is going to be much bigger for the government.”
The government has been contacted for comment.
Meanwhile, Care England chief executive Martin Green called for universal testing and figures to be collected and released daily to understand the scale of the pandemic.
He said the industry was currently “working a bit blind” without NHS-style daily statistics, but told BBC Breakfast “there are thousands of people sadly who have now shown symptoms and also sadly as well thousands of people who’ve died”.
Nicola Richard, the director of Palms Row Healthcare, which runs three care homes in Sheffield, said she could not put into words the “horrendous” challenges faced by frontline staff.
Some 11 residents across two of the homes have died with Covid-19 and one staff member is in intensive care.
She told GMB: “Our frontline workers are trying to deliver care as best we can but I can’t explain how challenging it is at the minute.”
Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has said around 13.5% of care homes in the UK have registered an outbreak and said he would like to see an uplift in testing “as the ability to test ramps up over the next few weeks”.
David Behan, the non-executive director of HC-One, Britain’s largest care home operator, said Covid-19 is present in 232 of their homes, around two-thirds of all its facilities.
Elderly and infirm nursing home residents have been linked to around half of all coronavirus deaths in a new study using data from five European countries.
Data collected from official sources by a London School of Economics-based team found 42-57% of all deaths linked to the virus were among care home residents.
The countries studied by the International Long Term Care Policy Network (LTCPN) included Italy, Spain, Ireland, Belgium and France.
The LTCPN report suggested that the clearest snapshot of coronavirus mortality in care homes came from Ireland, as there was a centralised system to collect information relating to Covid-19.
As of Saturday, there had been 6,444 cases of Covid-19 and 288 deaths, of which 156, or 54%, were care home residents.
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