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Care homes across the UK are refusing to take hospital patients because they are struggling to secure adequate liability insurance, adding to pressure on the NHS as it struggles to cope with a surge in Covid-19 admissions.

Hospitals across the country are facing a shortage of beds because of the Covid-19 crisis and in London they will be overwhelmed in two weeks unless the current infection rate drops significantly, health service officials have warned.

But many care homes said they cannot risk taking Covid-19 or other patients because they cannot get the insurance coverage they want. They have asked the government for support but no decision has been made.

Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, the industry lobby group, said: “Care England has been calling for the government to help with insurance and indemnity and now it is crunch time. Care homes need support too or we will be back where we were at the beginning of this dreadful pandemic”.

Covid-19 tore through care homes at the start of the pandemic, accounting for roughly half of all excess deaths between March 7 and September 18, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. A government policy to discharge Covid-19-infected residents into care homes, many of which struggled to access sufficient protective equipment for staff, helped to fuel the spread of the virus.

Where care homes have managed to get liability insurance, premiums have more than doubled recently. The insurance is required in the event they are sued by families of residents or staff if there is an outbreak on site.

Robert Kilgour, chairman of Renaissance Care, which runs 15 care homes in Scotland, said his business had approached 28 insurers that previously provided cover to the sector and all had declined.

Although his existing insurer, Aviva, had extended cover, his annual premium had risen by 61 per cent in December and the cover was substantially reduced so that he is now entitled to a total of £25,000 on all Covid-19 claims.

“The government are not indemnifying us, so why would we take Covid positive patients? If you do take Covid cases from hospitals you’re not insured and you’re liable to claims.”

Aviva said it was continuing to provide insurance but needed “to take into consideration the increased risk that Covid-19 poses to care homes”.

Mike Padgham, managing director of the Saint Cecilia’s care home group in Scarborough, said his premiums had more than doubled and he was unable to get business interruption insurance, which protects the home if it is forced to close during an outbreak. If this were to happen the home would not receive any income and “might shut — meaning residents would have to move and capacity for the NHS would be reduced”, he said.

The Department of Health and Social Care said last year it had wanted to discharge elderly Covid-19 patients from overcrowded wards into 500 designated care homes until they were no longer infectious. But as a result of the insurance issue, only 120 suitable sites have been approved although the department said a further 30 NHS sites had been identified. 

The DHSC said it was working “with care providers and insurance representatives, to understand the breadth and severity of the issues, and to determine the action the government can take”.

Covid-19 outbreaks have been increasing in care homes in recent weeks even though the government said on Sunday that about a third people aged over 80 had been vaccinated.

Leonid Shapiro, of consultancy Candesic, said occupancy rates were about 10 per cent below usual levels and this would make many homes unprofitable, particularly with the increased costs of personal protective equipment and insurance.

The Association of British Insurers, a trade body, said: “While the market is challenging, insurance remains available for care homes, provided they are well managed and risks are adequately controlled.” 

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