The government is under intense scrutiny over the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in care homes after providers said official figures on deaths do not match what they are seeing on the ground.
On Monday, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said 13.5% of the UK’s care homes had at least one resident with a confirmed case of coronavirus, up from 9% the previous week.
A total of 92 care homes reported outbreaks of the coronavirus in a 24-hour period this week. But what do we know about them and who is affected by the COVID-19 outbreak in them?
Who uses care homes and what services do they provide?
Care homes provide accommodation and personal care for people who may be struggling to live on their own and need extra support, which might include help with eating, washing, dressing, going to the toilet and taking medication.
Accommodation varies between residential and nursing homes, but same may offer both services.
Who runs them?
Care homes may be run by private companies, voluntary or charity organisations, or sometimes by local councils.
What is the cost of a care home?
This can vary depending on the type of care home and where it is based.
Nursing care homes will usually cost more because of the additional costs of providing qualified nursing staff on site.
According to the NHS website, the average cost of a care home in the UK is around £600 a week for a residential home, and about £800 a week for a nursing home.
What is the age of care home residents?
The care home resident population is usually made up of those aged 65 and over and has remained almost stable since 2001, according to the Office for National Statistics’ latest report called Changes in the Older Resident Care Home Population based on 2001 and 2011 Census data.
Its analysis showed fewer women but more men aged 65 and over were living as residents of care homes in 2011 compared with 2001, and that people aged 85 and over represented 59.2% of the care home population compared with 56.5% in 2001.
In 2011, more than a quarter of a million (291,000) people aged 65 and over were living in care homes in England and Wales, representing 3.2% of the total population at this age.
Politicians have been telling people for years that the UK has an ageing population.
Overall, almost a quarter of the UK population is over 60. The percentage aged over 60 is higher in Wales (26.8%), followed by Scotland (25.1%), England (23.6%) and NI (21.8%), according to ONS figures from mid-2018.
Given this is the case, the number of people living in care homes could be higher now in 2020 than a decade ago.
Who works in care homes?
This varies by home, but they will usually have care workers, a management team, nursing staff, somebody who may organise trips out, specialist staff such as those who may work with residents with dementia, cooks or kitchen assistants, housekeepers, drivers who provide transport (although maybe not under the current lockdown) and those who come in to carry out maintenance jobs.
Are residents and staff getting the protection they need?
The government has said all care home residents and staff with symptoms of COVID-19 are to be tested amid growing demands for care home deaths to be included in the daily updates for deaths in hospitals to stop “potentially thousands” of fatalities going “under the radar”.
The daily figures announced by the UK government only include deaths in hospitals where a patient had tested positive for the virus.
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, which represents independent social care services, said there have been thousands of cases and deaths in care homes, while Sir David Behan, chief executive of HC-One, Britain’s biggest care home operator, has said two-thirds of its homes are affected and it has seen 311 deaths.
He told Sky News he expects the number of infections to almost double over the next two to four weeks to 4,500.
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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.”