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Covid-19: Nearly half of care homes in northeast England have had an outbreak

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m2041 (Published 20 May 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m2041

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  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

More than a third of England’s care homes have now had cases of covid-19, the country’s healthcare regulator has reported.

In a report published on 19 May,1 the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said that around 36% of care homes in England had been affected by the disease, as of the week ending 10 May.

The worst affected regions have been the north east, where 47% of all care homes have had an outbreak; London (42%); and the north west (41%), in the CQC’s analysis of Public Health England data. Additional data from the CQC’s own tracking survey found that, of 6258 domiciliary care agencies that submitted data from 2 to 8 May, 19% (1179) were caring for at least one person with suspected or confirmed covid-19.

The report comes as the government continues to face criticism over its handling of the outbreak in care homes, where more than 11 600 people have died from the virus since the pandemic began. Latest weekly figures from the Office for National Statistics2 show that the number of covid-19 related deaths in care homes in England and Wales is now falling, but deaths involving covid-19 as a percentage of all deaths in care homes continue to rise.

PPE problems

The CQC warned in its report that access to a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) remained a problem in care homes. Of the care agencies that responded to its tracker survey from 2 to 8 May, 6% in London had only enough PPE to last two days or less, while 28% in London and in the north west had only enough PPE to last a week or less.

“There have also been instances where the wrong items have been delivered or the quality of items was poor,” the CQC added. It said that testing measures for care home staff and residents continued to be a concern, noting “an ongoing need for clarity about who is leading on testing and where to go for it.”

The report also warned that covid-19 was placing some providers at risk of collapse in an adult social care sector that had already been under huge pressure before the pandemic. “The troubling financial reality for some providers is that they may now face a shortfall in people using their services due to increased deaths and not being able to admit new admissions,” it said. Some providers were also struggling financially with the cost of PPE, it said.

The CQC reported that some care providers had been told by insurance companies that they would be in breach of their insurance if they knowingly accepted patients who had tested positive for covid-19, while other care providers have been unable to renew their insurance. “There is a risk that they may have to move residents elsewhere if this can’t be found,” the regulator warned.

Ian Trenholm, CQC chief executive, said, “We’re already sharing this information with local, regional, and national system partners to help target support—and using it to take action to keep people safe where needed.”

Liz Kendall, Labour’s shadow minister for social care, said that the report highlighted the “extreme pressures” that social care providers were under. She said, “The government must learn the lessons from mistakes made so far, so [that] they put in place the right measures in future and ensure all care services get the priority, resources, and support they need to stop the spread of this awful virus.”

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