Nursing homes are the ‘Cinderella’ service and are being forgotten as COVID-19 continues to claim lives, a care chief warns.
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Nicola Richards is the director of Palms Row Health Care, which operates three nursing homes in Sheffield.
Here she tells Sky News that despite the tireless efforts of staff, the situation is becoming increasingly desperate in the face of the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Care homes across the country are fighting for residents’ lives like never before.
Words cannot describe how difficult the conditions are on the front line as COVID-19 spreads into our homes, affecting residents and staff.
Over the past few weeks I have become increasingly concerned, not just for our staff and residents, but for care homes across the city and country as this virus continues to spread.
The three care homes I manage in Sheffield are now in the peak of this crisis and I’ve never seen a situation like this in my 20 years of working in the care sector.
All our staff are working tirelessly to care for some of the most vulnerable people in our society and to keep safe levels of service, but the situation is becoming increasingly desperate.
We have had a number of COVID-19 cases in two of our homes which have very sadly resulted in deaths due to the extremely aggressive nature of this virus, particularly on older people.
In addition to this, while we are still managing to keep staffing levels safe, 20% of our workforce are off work due to either testing positive or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
We have been fortunate enough to get access to personal protective equipment from our local NHS hospital trust and, after I wrote to local councillors and spoke to local media, some from the council.
We are running dangerously low on supplies.
This not only increases the chance of transmission between residents but puts the lives of our staff and their families at risk.
Many of my frontline carers have admitted to being terrified and I can’t say I blame them.
As well as working with our homes we are also trying to support the wider community and our local NHS during a pandemic which is overwhelming us all.
We are an essential part of the healthcare system and, like many other care homes, operate as an extension of the hospital system.
The NHS needs our services more than ever.
We’re not shying away from the fact that our job will be tougher than ever. Our staff are performing miracles every day, keeping residents as safe and comfortable as they possibly can.
But contrary to national government platitudes, we are the Cinderella sector and we are being overlooked.
We need improved PPE, greater access to testing, support to allow faster recruitment of new staff and volunteers, simplification of communication from government bodies as well as financial and moral support from local authorities and politicians.
There is a role for volunteers here too.
It may sound crazy, but we need people to go to the shops to get essentials for staff and residents.
We could also do with help in supporting residents to use technology so they can video call their relatives and provide basic human company during a scary time for elderly and frail people.
And while PPE may be getting the headlines, the sad reality is funding is also vital.
Nurses in care homes fighting on a forgotten frontline
After discussions with Care England yesterday, it turns out that our council is not passing on the recommended 15% uplift in finances to care homes following emergency government funding, rather providing a vague assurance that “additional costs” would be met.
Care England told us that this is not just a problem in Sheffield.
So while I’ve been aghast at the lack of support from local government, I have watched the national picture unfolding with dismay.
The tragic official daily death toll we are seeing doesn’t even account for the numbers of cases we are seeing in care homes like ours across the country. This means that the numbers are almost certainly vastly underestimated.
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A Sky News report cites an estimate that 50% of care homes in the UK have COVID-19 cases. The implications of this are enormous.
The people we care for are often frail and vulnerable.
They have relatives and friends who are desperately anxious about their welfare and the only human interaction they have at the moment is with care staff who are dedicated and brave but spread extremely thin.
Because of the reduced workforce, our carers no longer have time to sit and talk with the residents or provide games and activities to keep their minds off the horrors unfolding around them.
A death in one of our homes is never easy for staff or fellow residents, but when it happens on this scale it becomes almost unbearable.
Elderly people in our society often feel like second class citizens and one of the roles of carers is to show them that they are valued and respected.
As this virus continues to take hold we must fight even harder to let them know that they are not going to be dismissed and overlooked and that their lives matter.
In Sheffield we have one of the highest number of cases in the country and our care homes are reflecting the high volume of cases in our community.
We’re seeing the devastating effects of this virus first hand and our situation should be a wake-up call for the rest of the country.