Care home bosses in North Wales are calling for more protection against Covid-related insurance claims – and warn it will be difficult to allow Christmas visits without it.
Care Forum Wales, which represents nearly 500 independent social care providers, says it’s vital they are given indemnity from being sued over outbreaks just like the NHS.
Unless they get the same safeguard, they fear care homes may be understandably reluctant to allow families to visit during the run up to Christmas because of the risk of transmitting the virus.
Insurance companies introduced new covid clauses after the pandemic struck earlier this year.
The exclusion means care homes and domiciliary care companies are no longer covered in policies renewed after April for any claims arising as a result of coronavirus.
It’s estimated that that two thirds of care homes have renewed their policies since then and are not now covered for any covid claims.
At the same time insurance premiums have rocketed – some have more than doubled.
Care homes are legally obliged to have insurance cover against potential claims arising from death or serious injury on their premises and should not operate if they don’t have it.
According to Care Forum Wales, a number of care homes may feel they have to close temporarily and mothball their services until the Covid-19 is no longer a threat, rather than risk being taken to court by bereaved relatives.
Chair Mario Kreft MBE says the problem could be easily solved by giving indemnity to social care providers for Covid-related damages.
He said: “Our care homes and domiciliary care organisations are on the front line just like the NHS.
“The NHS was given indemnity when the pandemic struck so it is only right and proper that social care is given the same protection as a matter of urgency.
“As more and more insurance policies come up for renewal, there is a growing sense of alarm that operators are risking being ruined because they are not covered against any covid claims.
“We are required by law to have public liability insurance and the new covid clauses mean care homes and domiciliary care companies are not covered for any claims relating to coronavirus.
“Amongst other things, it may mean that they are operating illegally without that cover, which could also make them liable to massive and ruinous damages claims if the courts rule against them.
“Some may well opt to shut down and mothball their services rather than risk being crippled and put out of business by catastrophically high legal costs.
“It’s almost certainly something that has to be settled in Whitehall, jointly with Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland, through providing indemnity just like they gave to the NHS.”
It was a concern echoed by Sanjiv Joshi, the managing director of the Caron Group, which manages 14 care homes across South and Mid-Wales.
He said: “This has serious consequences for us when it comes to delivering the service. For example, if public liability doesn’t cover covid then we can’t risk family members coming into our home because it is an uninsured risk.
“One of the requirements of the local authorities and health boards who commission our services is approved Insurance cover for the service. That’s eminently sensible.
“Not having Covid cover in theory could mean care homes not meeting contractual requirements and therefore forced to temporarily shut down.
“We can understand an insurer excluding covid because it’s such a large risk and unquantifiable. They can’t be signing blank cheques so this is where government needs to step in.
“This issue was recognised very early on for the NHS, with the government stepping in and underwriting all of the covid-19 related risks. we are asking for is that the indemnity is extended to cover social care so that we can continue to focus on the best outcomes for our residents in the covid-19 environment.
“In Wales, we are mainly small businesses. Even if we are allowed to continue operating with this uninsured risk, a covid-19 related claim could mean curtains for the home.
“What we’re asking for is support to continue the battle against covid-19 just like the NHS, we are on the frontline in this pandemic.
“We are looking after the frail and the most vulnerable who are at the highest risk of fatalities from covid-19. We also have to address, safely, the increasingly important engagement between families and our residents. This is vitally important and will be very difficult without adequate cover in the first place.
“It’s a massive issue for care homes across Wales. We’re in the middle of a second wave right now. Christmas is coming too and families will want to visit so it’s going to make it very difficult for everyone concerned.”
Another care home owner who’s becoming increasingly worried is Glyn Williams, who runs the Gwyddfor Care Home in Bodedern, on Anglesey, with his wife, Mary.
He said: “Premiums this year have gone up by between 50 and 70% which really is incredible – so we’re paying a lot more for a lot less.
“The problems is that the NHS can be assured if an incorrect decision is made due to human factors then they’re backed by an indemnity.
“Independent providers are understandably very reluctant to do anything that would put their businesses at risk, including visiting because if a visitor were to bring in
covid-19 and the home was to have an outbreak then the home is liable for any losses.
“The issue is also being brought into sharp focus because Christmas is fast-approaching.
“Families will naturally want to visit their loved ones in care homes but this is making things a lot more difficult.
“Providers won’t want to open their doors to visitors at Christmas if they haven’t got insurance and adequate testing. That’s another big concern.”
Justin Otto-Jones, who helps run Parkside House Residential Home in Penarth, near Cardiff, added: “The Covid tests are not 100% reliable and for example the guidance is for one negative result on hospital discharge and we and others are insisting on two negative results before allowing new residents to come from hospital into the home, simply because of the inaccuracy of the tests.
“Since the Covid exclusion was introduced, there are significant areas of liability where we are just not covered.
“Apart from the sleepless nights, it does colour your attitude to how you’re running your business and you become even more risk averse. The downside is so frightening.
“We have to tread incredibly carefully. It’s very scary. I’m from a legal background so these things really bother me. This leaves us potentially on the rocks.
“We have been banging the drum about this for months. For all our efforts, for all our lobbying nothing has yet changed.
“I just hope that the increased pressure on Christmas visiting will help us solve the insurance problem at the same time.”