Covid deaths were our “worst possible nightmare”

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A social care leader said the loss of care home residents who died of Covid was the “worst possible nightmare”.

Mary Wimbury, the chief executive of Care Forum Wales, was speaking in the wake of the publication of the death notifications for individual homes by regulators Care Inspectorate Wales who admitted the statistics were flawed and not accurate.

Frontline staff across Wales had fought a heroic battle to keep the virus out of care homes, putting their own lives on the line in the process.

Many homes had managed to keep the infection at bay and had been able to avoid fatalities.

But Care Inspectorate Wales pointed out that the fact that certain homes had suffered losses was not a reflection on the quality of the care they provided.

They said that once the virulent infection got into a care home, it was incredibly difficult to control and contain.

During the first wave of coronavirus, care homes struggled desperately because of the dire shortage of PPE and the lack of testing of residents and staff.

Concerns were voiced that resources were being concentrated on the NHS rather than social care.

At the same time untested hospital patients who were being discharged into care homes.

Although they did not have symptoms at the time many did actually have Covid.

The second surge saw the emergence of the more infectious Kent variant of the disease, with community transmission soaring.

Ms Wimbury said: “The profoundly traumatic impact of the pandemic is the greatest ever crisis faced by the social care sector in Wales. It was and remains our worst possible nightmare.

“Our mission in life is to safeguard the vulnerable people for whom we provide care. They are our extended family and the fact that so many of them were taken by Covid hurts very badly.

“Our deepest sympathies go to the families and friends of those we lost to this terrible virus. They will always be in our hearts.

“We would like to place on record our admiration and thanks to the wonderful social care workforce who selflessly and heroically put their own lives on the line and we will never forget the sacrifice of front line staff who also paid the ultimate price.

“Too many lives have been cut short and the publication of these figures underlines the terrible toll we have all suffered. Every single death was a tragedy for those who passed away and their loved ones.

“It has also been a traumatic time for staff and managers – the stress of constant vigilance against the virus cannot be underestimated.

“It is also important to remember that most care homes did not lose any residents to Covid which means that the overwhelming majority of people were kept safe and under the circumstances that’s an absolutely incredible achievement in a sector where we have 20,000 living in care homes in Wales.

“In fairness, Care Inspectorate Wales have been very open about the fact that the figures they have published are flawed and cannot be relied upon to give an accurate picture.

“For example, residents who did not have Covid in the care home but contracted it after being admitted to hospital have been included and there are also a number of other anomalies in the statistics.

“Revisiting the ordeal of the pandemic is difficult for all concerned and it is important that the information is handled with sensitivity and the greatest of respect.

“As Care Inspectorate Wales have made clear, the number of death notifications involving Covid-19 is in no way a reflection on the quality of the care provided by the homes concerned .

“They pointed out that a whole range of factors impacted on the number of fatalities, including the rates of community transmission, along with the size and the layout of the homes which impacted in ways that could not have been envisaged before this pandemic.

“Other factors included age, ethnicity and the fragile health of the people living in those care homes.

“All the evidence has shown that once the virus is present in a care home it is incredibly difficult to control.

“In the early part of the pandemic the unfolding horror of the situation was exacerbated by the dire shortage of PPE, the lack of a proper testing regime for residents and staff and the discharging of untested hospital patients into care homes.

“Back in March 2020, Care Forum Wales was ahead of the curve in calling for all of these issues to be addressed as a matter of urgency, as well as expressing concern that in the first few months resources were being concentrated on the NHS rather than being shared with the social care sector.

“The second wave of the pandemic was driven by the more infectious Kent strain of the virus which also had a higher mortality rate but, as official guidance was not changed,  we were fighting with the same weapons.

“Much more is now known about the risk of asymptomatic spread  of the virus and the risk of airborne infection.

“We have worked closely with the Welsh Government throughout this crisis and we would like to acknowledge the exemplary financial support given by them to the independent social care sector, without which many care homes would have had to close putting the NHS under even more pressure.

“Credit where it is due, the roll-out of the vaccine here in Wales has been a massive success and has been a game-changer in combating the virus but we are not out of the woods yet.

“The fact that the vast majority of residents and staff have been double jabbed and are now receiving boosters has reduced the risk but it has not eliminated the dangers posed by Covid.

“Let’s not forget that the reason people  are living in a care or a nursing home is that they are often very unwell with serious underlying health conditions, making them susceptible to all kinds of infections.

“We owe it to the residents and staff we lost to proceed with caution. As we mourn them, we also pause to remember Vernon Hough, a director of Gwastad Hall Care Home in Cefn-y-Bedd, near Wrexham, who tragically took his own life after being overwhelmed by the pressures caused by the pandemic.

“While the safety and wellbeing of our residents will always be paramount, it is also vitally important that we do everything we can to support our fantastic workforce in terms of their mental health which has suffered greatly over the past 18 months. We also have a duty of care to the staff, the managers and the owners who work in social care.”