Southwark’s adult social care system is braced for the crippling knock-on effects of the Coronavirus pandemic as the News is told one care home has already recorded seven cases among staff and residents.
Providers have also warned staff shortages, delays in getting government-promised surgical masks for staff, and the workforce’s reliance on public transport, all pose threats to an already overburdened sector.
The News has been told by multiple sources that Tower Bridge Care Home could be temporarily closed after seven COVID-19 cases among staff and patients.
Public Health England is not confirming the locations of outbreaks of positive cases, but in response to an enquiry from this paper, a spokesperson for the home said: “The health, safety and wellbeing of our residents and colleagues are our first priorities, and we are committed to doing everything we can to keep them safe and well. To do this we created a comprehensive coronavirus contingency plan which has been put into action.
“As part of this plan, and to minimise the risk of infection, Tower Bridge Care Home has been closed to non-essential visitors since the March 12. This was a difficult decision, but we felt it was in the best interests of our residents’ health.
“A dedicated action group, led by our clinical director, continues to review and react to the latest NHS, government and public health advice as the situation in the UK evolves. Our colleagues have also revisited their infection control training.
“We have also taken action to make sure we have the supplies, medical equipment, and number of colleagues we need to continue providing safe and effective care to our residents.
“Our wellbeing team is working hard to keep residents active and engaged, and to facilitate video and telephone calls with their loved ones.
“We continue to work with our local health and care partners, and we are committed to doing everything in our power to make sure our residents and colleagues stay safe and well throughout these challenging times.”
Other homes to have gone into lockdown early in the month include Anchor Hanover’s sites. Its director of care services for London and Surrey, Jane Darani, said it was recruiting for staff, and praised the commitment of her staff.
“We are taking all of the necessary steps to protect people who live and work at our care homes and there is a temporary stop on all non-essential visits to our care homes, including those from family members and friends,” she said.
“This decision has not been taken lightly and we understand that visits to our care homes can help boost residents’ well-being, however our priority is to keep residents safe during these unprecedented times.
“Where possible, we continue to encourage family and friends to keep in touch via Skype and Facetime or by phone. Safeguarding residents and colleagues from the virus, and ensuring we have sufficient numbers of colleagues working in our homes to meet the needs of our residents is paramount and we are working with some agency staff to ensure we continue to deliver high levels of care.
“The commitment and selflessness at this time of my colleagues has ensured people are being cared for and supported in their usual routines by people who know them well. Their commitment to our residents has been unwavering.”
Despite Southwark recording the highest number of confirmed cases in recent days, council contractor London Care told us they were still waiting for government-promised extra supplies of specialist facial masks; due to arrive as the News went to press.
A spokesperson, Max Wurr, said: “Lots of our staff are self-isolating as a precaution following government guidelines, so we are down on our normal staffing level and working on contingency plans including shorter times with clients, and priority focusing.”
Responding to the allegations staff were without hand sanitiser, he explained company policy was that carers should only be going into homes where they can wash their hands with soap rather than relying on less effective hand sanitiser gel.
“We have had outbreaks before in the past but this is an extraordinary situation for the country. We are all under a lot of pressure and trying to get through this the best we can,” he added, saying most of their staff were travelling to work via buses which did put them at risk.
A family member of a resident in Nunhead’s Lime Tree House, run by London Care, said that on Sunday there were two carers on shift covering the entire building of around 50 flats for part of that afternoon before being relieved by other staff.
The apartment complex provides 24-hour care and includes people with dementia and other disabilities.
Southwark Council is now rapidly scaling up its work as part of the government’s wider plans to ‘shield’ the most vulnerable from the disease – including freeing up hospital beds with managed moves into the community and redeploying desk-based officers into frontline work.
All vulnerable residents living in their own homes received government letters this week, and will also be contacted by Southwark Council’s call centre to find out what help they need.
Council leader Peter John said: “It is imperative that we support our colleagues in the NHS while they manage the front line of the illness in hospitals, but outside of the medical work, local authorities are working very hard to continue to provide front line care, support and protection to the thousands of elderly and vulnerable people in care homes and their own homes.”
Visit Southwark Council’s website for more information on the support available.