COVID-19: Care homes at risk of being overwhelmed again as outbreaks triple

·3-min read

Care homes risk being overwhelmed by the coronavirus once again, the government has been warned, with the number of outbreaks having tripled in the past month.

Public Health England figures reveal they went up by 60% in one week alone, as the UK as a whole battles a major surge in COVID cases and growing concerns about staffing levels.

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A survey by the National Care Forum found care homes were operating staff absence rates of up to 50%, with increased testing revealing more positive cases and forcing staff to isolate.

Others are having to shield or look after children during lockdown.

Northfield Nursing Home in Sheffield is among those now in crisis mode.

There is too much to do and not enough hours in the day to do it.

The care staff are running around trying to keep on top of all the buzzers. Each buzzer is a patient in need of care and a panel on the wall is lit up with green lights, each one needing attention.

This is a specialist nursing home that offers what the NHS calls "intermediate care" - that's a hospital-style bed for patients who should no longer be in hospital but who are not ready to go back to their homes.

These days, intermediate care is being used as a valve to relieve pressure on an NHS that is bursting at the seams.

"Just as we get one patient discharged another comes straight through the door," says clinical lead nurse Tracy Hobson, who worked for the NHS for 30 years and now runs this department.

"It's a bit like Groundhog Day - it just keeps repeating itself and we just need to keep going for our residents."

She tells me that the floor we are on is full with patients sent to them from hospitals. Thankfully, no one in the home has COVID at the moment, she says.

This care home is trying to help the NHS from being overwhelmed by taking as many patients as possible. The nursing staff and carers are doing their best to hold back a new surge in this crippling pandemic.

Eva Koffi is a third-year medical student and part-time carer. The 21-year-old says the situation can change dramatically from week to week.

"One week I had a shift and I left on the Friday night and all was well. On my next shift I came in and the whole floor was full of COVID positives. I was terrified," she said.

"The vaccine can't come quickly enough. Until then. We don't know what happens from one week to the next."

Pressure on health and social care is rising, with demand for beds higher than it has ever been.

And care homes like Northfield have never been busier, full of patients sent from hospitals that are desperate to free up bed space.

Vic Rayner, National Care Forum executive director, told Sky News: "It's a really important early warning flag that we must pay absolute attention to.

"Action is needed now to ensure social care services can provide the care and support so desperately needed."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "The NHS and social care systems are working closely together to ensure that patients are discharged as quickly and safely as possible.

"All patients will be tested on discharge from hospital and must have their result prior to admission to a care home."