Editorial: In second Covid wave, we need to protect care homes and their residents

(12 November, 2020)

We owe it to care home residents to make sure they are both safe and not isolated from the outside world

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It  is clear lessons need to be learned from the experience of care homes and their residents during the first coronavirus wave.

This week we report how hundreds of people were discharged from hospitals into care homes in south London without being tested first while the virus was at its peak. This isn’t hospitals’ fault; it was a national policy.

Officials say that there was a rush to clear beds in hospitals, and a lack of tests to make sure discharges weren’t infectious.

READ MORE: Hundreds discharged into south London care homes without anyone knowing if they had coronavirus

This meant care homes were forced to take residents without knowing their coronavirus status. A lack of testing for asymptomatic care home workers also may have helped Covid take hold in Southwark homes.

Care homes in Southwark are now clear – they won’t take anyone without knowing if they are Covid-free or not. Work is ongoing to create seven-day isolation hubs in care homes to make sure infection cannot be passed on, and residents and staff are regularly tested.

But this also speaks to another lesson that needs to be learned from the first wave: the intense loneliness some in homes feel from a lack of contact with the outside world.

Restrictions on visits may be necessary to curtail the disease; but they come at a cost for the wellbeing of residents. We are glad this is something the sector is well aware of.

Speaking to councillors on Tuesday evening, the manager of Tower Bridge Care Home, Christen San Pedro, said she welcomed relatives’ visits where safe, saying it was important for wellbeing. “Even residents with dementia, it’s not just about memory, it’s about the feeling as well,” she said.

“It’s good for the residents, they respond more to relatives – we always advocate for family members to visit because they know the residents better than us.”

Where physical visits have not been possible – policies appear to vary from care home to care home – virtual visits have been used through Skype and Zoom.

This outside connection is crucial. Care home residents are vulnerable: not just to coronavirus, but the loneliness lockdown can cause.

We owe it to them to make sure they are not isolated during this difficult and challenging second wave.

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