The head of Britain’s largest care home operator has told Sky News that 311 of its residents have died from coronavirus in the last three weeks and that he expects the number of infections to almost double over the next two to four weeks.
Sir David Behan, chief executive of HC-One, said 2,477 people had tested positive and that the number could go up to 4,500 infections over the next month.
He said his staff had shown nothing but “heroism and courage” dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, but warned the social care sector is “teetering under the pressure of COVID-19“.
He said many of those working in care homes “don’t have the professional status, they’re not registered” and “often the training that’s made available to them is the statutory minimum”.
As well as the coronavirus epidemic, Sir David said staff were also having to deal with a growing number of elderly residents dying from conditions unrelated to COVID-19 because they are not being referred to hospitals.
“We’ve had 311 deaths. And that’s just under a third of all the deaths that we’ve recorded over the past three weeks… the COVID-19 deaths,” he said.
“So what we’re also seeing is high numbers of deaths amongst older people, which are not COVID-19 related.
“One of the phenomena that we’re dealing with at the present time is they’re not transferring into hospitals because of the restrictions on movement to hospitals. So we’ve got a heightened number of deaths taking place in care homes.
“Staff need the support with personal protective equipment, they need support to be tested. And we’re seeing improvements in both of those areas.
“But equally, they need support in the emotional and psychological impact of dealing with this virus.
“What I’ve seen on a daily basis is staff going above and beyond and demonstrating heroism and courage, quite frankly, and coming to work every day and giving their best to care for the residents that they’ve been looking after… you know, for a long, long time.”
Asked how he envisaged the impact of the virus through his care homes, he replied: “The worst case we’ve been looking at is we could have potentially up to about 4,500 cases over this next period of time.
“And what we know from this is we might experience more deaths during this period of time as well as a consequence of the virus.”
Bosses in the social sector are facing tough decisions on bringing back infected residents and putting them back into a care home because there is a general perception that beds need to be free in hospital.
Sir David said: “What we’re asking is that those people who are coming out of hospital are tested. And we can be clear whether those people do have the virus.
“If they do, the appropriate levels of care and protection can be given to both the staff providing that care and to the individual residents. This is why testing and personal protective equipment is hugely important.”
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Asked if he thought whether at some stage there needs to be an overhaul of the system, he said: “I do. We do need to professionalise things.
“The staff that work in the care sector very often, many of them don’t have the professional status. They’re not registered. Often the training that’s made available to them is the statutory minimum.
“I think it was in around 2015, off the top of my head, that the report I published to parliament said this system was ‘teetering on the brink’ and it was at the ‘tipping point’ was the phrase that we used.
“And I think it’s teetering under the pressure that it’s under.
“And it is really under pressure in the challenge it’s faced in responding to the COVID-19 virus.”