Care home providers and experts said on Wednesday they were confident they would avoid a repeat of the crisis last year when almost 30,000 residents died, as data showed infections and deaths in the sector were rising to levels not seen since May.
Deaths in care homes for the elderly accounted for around half of all Covid-19 related deaths in the UK between March and September but fell to around 30 per cent during the second wave between October and Christmas, according to LaingBuisson, the healthcare analysts.
William Laing, LaingBuisson chief executive, said the data implied that some of the “more draconian measures taken by care homes such as restricting visitors had worked and the second wave was less severe than the first”.
Although, the latest figures suggest the proportion of deaths in care homes had started to climb again, the vaccination rollout should prevent a repeat of last year’s surge in fatalities, people in the sector said.
According to the government, about half of care home residents and half of people aged over 80 have received their first vaccination against Covid-19. All staff and residents are expected to have received at least one jab by the end of January.
Data from the Care Quality Commission, the regulator, showed that 1,717 care home residents died from Covid-19 in the second week of 2021, the highest weekly figure since mid-May last year.
The government’s count of positive coronavirus cases in the same week showed that infection rates were still increasing in the oldest groups of the population in England, those over 85, and the number of notifications of outbreaks to Public Health England in individual homes had also reached a second wave record in January.
Despite this, HC-One, the country’s largest care home operator, said death rates were now lower than they were at the same time last year.
James Tugendhat, chief executive of HC-One, which runs 328 care homes across the UK, said that although there were still Covid-19 outbreaks, the number of homes where it had spread beyond three people was very much lower.
“Overall the mortality rates are much lower,” he said. More than two-thirds of residents had received the first vaccination and around 40 per cent of staff, raising the prospect that “care homes could be one of the safest places to be in the UK by the spring”, he said.
Robert Kilgour, chairman of Renaissance Care, which has 15 care homes in Scotland, said that although the vaccine was “no silver bullet”, nearly all of its 700 residents and 1,100 staff had been vaccinated and employees were being tested three times a week.
“When we had an outbreak in the first wave it went viral but in the second wave we have not been as badly hit,” he said. “The second wave has been much easier to repress as hospital admissions are better organised and they are only coming in with negative tests,” he said.
In the first week of January, there were 977 acute respiratory incidents reported from care homes in the UK, twice the number of two weeks earlier, with 739 of these involving at least one person testing positive for Covid-19, ending a period of relative stability in coronavirus outbreaks among residents through the autumn.
Despite a fall in occupancy rates as well as the additional costs of personal protective equipment and insurance, there has been no marked increase in the number of care home closures, according to LaingBuisson.
However it warned that this may be due in part to the use of government loans and tax holidays that have kept businesses afloat. This could lead to a marked increase in closures of small, family-run care home businesses when the schemes come to an end, Mr Laing warned.
The new nationwide lockdown rules in England
The main restriction is a firm stay-at-home message
People are only allowed to leave their home to go to work if they cannot reasonably do so from home, to shop for essential food, medicines and other necessities and to exercise with their household or one other person — once a day and locally
The most clinically vulnerable will be asked to shield
All colleges and primary and secondary schools will be closed until a review at half-term in mid-February. Vulnerable children and children of critical workers will still be able to attend while nursery provision will remain available
University students will have to study from home until at least mid-February
Hospitality and non-essential retail will be closed. Takeaway services will be available but not for the sale of alcohol
Entertainment venues and animal attractions such as zoos will close. Playgrounds can remain open
Places of worship can also stay open but one may attend only with one’s household
Indoor and outdoor sports facilities, including courts, gyms, golf courses, swimming pools and riding arenas, will close. Elite sport including the English Premier League will be able to continue
Overseas travel will be allowed for “essential” business only
Full details are available on the government’s official website.
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