Northumberland council chief denies claims of 'sickening' lack of support for care homes

Northumberland County Council has ‘strongly refuted’ what has been described as a ‘sickening’ lack of support for care homes from authorities across the region.

By Ben O'Connell
Friday, 24th April 2020, 4:34 pm
Updated Monday, 27th April 2020, 12:43 pm
Northumberland County Council
Northumberland County Council

An organisation representing care providers across the North East has approached the Government to step in and support their efforts, following what they claim is a ‘deafening silence’ from councils in the area.

And care homes are also hoping to rally the support of the general public to get them to insist that more should be done to save the lives of 36,000 vulnerable residents and care staff.

Home operators claim that not only have 12 of the region’s local authorities failed to give them adequate funding to deal with the crisis, but they are also being forced to readmit COVID-19 patients to their homes – putting both staff and other residents at risk.

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However, Northumberland County Council has said it is ‘in regular contact with all our providers to offer a range of assistance’ and alongside an increase in fees, has ‘asked them to come back to us to discuss their costs relating to the crisis should they feel they have specific issues’.

Keith Gray, chairman of Care North East, which represents more than 250 care homes across the region, said this is not about making profit but ensuring the funding was adequate to cover costs.

“It is sickening that at the time of national crisis, when everybody is pulling together, councils in the North East have banded together and refused to provide an adequate support package to help keep the most vulnerable of our society safe,” he said.

“The homes are only asking for the basics which would enable them to keep residents and staff safe, but it seems we have just been forgotten.

“No care home is looking to profit from this crisis, the reality is that many homes will be haemorrhaging money, but both the region’s local authorities and the clinical care groups don’t seem to have any interest in helping our front-line staff.”

Mr Gray said care homes hadn’t been issued with any PPE (personal protective equipment) to give to their staff, beyond a few days’ worth of masks, which he believes has contributed to ‘COVID-19 ripping through homes, resulting in the untimely death of residents and infecting staff’.

A council spokeswoman said: “Northumberland County Council strongly refutes the suggestion that we are giving care homes inadequate support.

“We are in regular contact with all our providers to offer a range of assistance and indeed a number of providers have contacted us to thank us for our support. This includes daily health and care advice and support, provision of additional PPE, increased fees and support with testing.

“Not only have we given all care providers an increase in fees which brings the average increase to 11.2%, but we have also asked them to come back to us to discuss their costs relating to the crisis should they feel they have specific issues.”

A council letter sent to providers earlier this month, which has been seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, refers to a ‘a 5% additional payment added to all payments we make to you during the emergency period’ – although it does add that the council ‘does not expect this to be the only financial support we will provide’.

The letter also says: ‘Please note that we are paying this additional amount on the basis that you will be remaining open to new referrals during this period (if you have vacancies, and have not been advised not to by Public Health England).’

Mr Gray said: “Even the local authorities’ own body (the LGA) recommends paying 10 per cent, but the North East councils won’t even abide by that.

“And the fact that homes are being forced to take COVID-19 patients, without adequate PPE for their staff, is irresponsible and heartless.

“Staff are going to work and then have to return home to their own families and we cannot adequately protect them. It’s scandalous.”

The council spokeswoman added: “We are acutely aware that discharge back to homes is a key question and we are working with our NHS colleagues to try to manage that.

“Accessing personal protective equipment remains a significant issue nationally and we are linking with the Local Resilience Forum for the region to coordinate emergency top-up supplies for those care providers who are struggling the most to secure PPE for their staff.”

The Government unveiled an emergency coronavirus social-care plan last week, which includes a pledge that all care home residents and social care staff with symptoms will be tested as capacity is built up.

Responding to the announcement, Coun Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: “Access to sufficient PPE and testing are vital to the safety of staff and the people they care for and we are pleased this plan provides assurance that these will be available.

“The current arrangements for accessing PPE by councils and care providers are not fit for purpose and are failing to provide what is needed on the front line. It is vital that the arrangements set out in the plan are urgently translated to reality on the ground.

“There are many calls on the £1.6billion provided by the Government to help councils with additional costs of supporting vulnerable people and delivering other services during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Councils will need access to additional resources to ensure they can continue to support care providers to deliver care and support to older and disabled people in the coming weeks.”

Tuesday’s (April 21) new ONS figures show that in the week ending April 10, the number of coronavirus-related deaths in care homes more than quadrupled from 217 to 1,043 in the space of seven days.

The LGA’s Coun Hudspeth said: “We are also yet to see the peak of the stress on the social care system, due to the delay between hospital admissions and discharge, which will require the need to start thinking about shifting capacity across from hospitals and into the community to meet a surge in demand.”

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