Life on Harrogate's care home frontline - teams speak out on challenges of coronavirus outbreak

‘If the Government is now expecting the social care sector to be the second frontline, then we need to be treated and acknowledged as such’ - an impassioned and fiery call to arms for the right levels of PPE has come from the chief executive of MHA, a charity whose care homes include Harrogate’s Berwick Grange.

By Finola Fitzpatrick
Thursday, 16th April 2020, 3:24 pm

The plea comes after it was revealed by chief medical officer Chris Whitty that 13.5 per cent of all care homes in the UK have confirmed at least one outbreak of coronavirus.

The method of recording coronavirus deaths has fallen under national scrutiny this week, with criticism that many older people are being “airbrushed” out of the figures, with official death tolls announced by the government not including those in care homes or in their own houses.

However, around one in ten coronavirus-related deaths registered up to April 3 in England and Wales took place outside of hospitals, according to the Office for National Statistics.

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Praise has been heaped on the extraordinary teams at Larchfield Manor who have truly gone the extra mile.

After weeks of mounting pressure, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said all care home residents and staff with Covid-19 symptoms will be tested for coronavirus as laboratory capacity increases, but Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, has predicted “logistical challenges” despite welcoming the pledge.

Nationally, MHA has reported 210 deaths across its 131 care homes and retirement villages - devastating losses of life which have dealt an enormous blow to relatives, residents and carers, who all see themselves as belonging to one family.

The charity is not issuing any details or figures from individual care homes, but has commented on its national picture as a whole. Chief executive Sam Monaghan said it is absolutely imperative that the right levels of personal protective equipment are provided to care homes immediately, and that testing for coronavirus is at the top of the agenda.

He said: “It is a desperately sad fact that many of our homes will lose beloved residents who are part of the MHA family. A small number of our homes have already been badly affected, although the extent to which these losses can be attributed to Covid-19 is debatable as our residents are not being tested. Without that testing, we may never know the true extent of outbreaks in our homes.

“As extraordinary as our colleagues across the UK are, they did not sign up to this but are doing their very best. They increasingly don’t have the equivalent PPE to the NHS and we can’t continue to accept that.

“For 76 years we have prided ourselves on delivering excellent end of life care with the support and involvement of families. At present we are struggling to even offer families the PPE to allow them to be with their loved ones at the end. Surely as a society we can do better than that.

“Each and every death is a tragedy. We know that the two factors that will help us to fight this virus are sufficient and consistent PPE and testing for our staff and residents.”

In amongst the tragic losses of life, Mr Monaghan said it has however been heartening to see residents who have confirmed or suspected Covid-19 recovering and doing well at MHA’s care homes, under the high quality care and attention given by dedicated teams.

The charity is now appealing for the Harrogate community’s support in helping to donate any surplus PPE supplies they might have - including schools, businesses and individual residents.

Specialist dementia care home provider Vida Healthcare, which runs Vida Hall in Starbeck and Vida Grange in Pannal, has reassured all staff, residents and relatives that they are doing everything they can to keep people safe, and stressed that the homes currently have adequate PPE to support their teams.

Vida Healthcare’s managing director James Rycroft, said: “In addition to strictly following the guidance from Public Health England in relation to infection control management and isolation from the extended home to minimise the risk of cross infection, we also have a number of additional measures in place to protect our residents and our staff.

“These measures include the use of OZONE machines to sanitise each room in the building. This covers all surfaces with an OZONE mist and kills bacteria and viruses.

“Our laundry also uses OZONE technology in all washes which assists with killing off any virus which has made its way onto clothing.

“Currently our homes have adequate PPE to support our valued care team deliver the much needed-love and care to our most vulnerable residents and we want to thank all our staff for their amazing hard work and commitment during these hard times.”

Praise for extraordinary teams

The deputy manager of Harrogate care home Larchfield Manor has praised its extraordinary staff for going the extra mile and coming to work with a smile and being positive, compassionate, caring and thoughtful to others.

Nicola Goodsall said: “All carers are in this profession do this job because they care. They come to work every day to make the lives of those they care for, fulfilled and meaningful. We do it all year round, the care home is their home, we are their extended family and friends, and we laugh together and we cry together. We all take joy in the happy moments and support each other when we may be sad.

“Like all care homes we are supporting each other within the home and discussing any concerns we may have. Our main focus is to limit the possibility of the virus entering the home - fundamentally hand hygiene, a vigorous cleaning regime, changing into uniform when entering the home and changing again when leaving - currently no visitors and all deliveries are left outside. and if a member of staff has symptoms or anyone who lives with them, they stay home.

“Regarding PPE, we have had masks and alcohol gel provided by our NHS partners. and the county council has set up a mutual aid scheme. As a care home we would purchase our own gloves and aprons but we have gone above and beyond that to source and purchase masks and face shields for our staff to ensure that everybody, staff and residents, are safe.”

Government's testing pledge

After weeks of mounting scrutiny and pressures on the government to widely test care home residents and staff with Covid-19 symptoms and to stop ‘airbrushing’ older people out of daily death toll figures, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has pledged that all care home residents and staff will be tested as laboratory capacity increases.

Mr Hancock said he is is “determined” to ensure that everyone who needed a test has access to one. However, Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, while welcoming the pledge, has predicted major “logistical challenges” in its roll-out.

He stressed the need to make sure there are enough tests, and to work out how to carry out tests in care homes while keeping residents safe.

Prof Green has acknowledged that the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) has ‘started to improve,’ but raised concerns that there has been “conflicting guidance” over its usage.

He said: “We need some very clear guidance from Public Health England about what level of PPE is to be used in which situations. We in the care sector are absolutely ready to support the government and to make sure that this works.”

The increased tests in care homes will bring the government closer to its target of completing 100,000 tests a day by the end of April.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty, pictured above, revealed that 13.5 per cent of all care homes in the UK have confirmed at least one outbreak of coronavirus.