The UK’s largest nursing home provider has had Covid outbreaks in 70 of its facilities, raising questions about whether official figures on the return of the virus to social care could be too low.
As care officials issued new warnings about delays in testing, HC-One said it had closed one in five of its 329 homes due to outbreaks and 20 homes had seen new outbreaks over the course of of the last fifteen weeks.
Bupa also told the Guardian that in the past 28 days, people have tested positive in 21 of its homes – nearly one in six of its 130 sites – while Care UK has tested positive in 19 of its 110 homes.
Public Health England (PHE) records outbreaks when they are reported by healthcare facilities. It has confirmed 134 new reports of possible or confirmed Covid outbreaks in English nursing homes in the week leading up to September 21. The government has asked healthcare operators to report even a single case to local health protection teams, but previous research into the pandemic suggests that a significant minority of outbreaks may have not reported.
In one week in September, HC-One recorded new outbreaks in a dozen homes, equivalent to 4% of its installations. In contrast, PHE recorded new outbreaks during the same period in only 1% of all outbreaks. Outbreaks are defined as two or more people in a home that test positive, including staff.
“It is essential that we have a complete and accurate picture of nursing home infections and it is of concern that one of the country’s leading healthcare providers has reported rates that appear to be considerably higher than official figures,” said Labor MP Liz Kendall, the shadow care minister.
“Looks like they are [underestimating]Said Judy Downey, president of the Relatives and Residents Association. “The system seems riddled with inconsistencies.”
PHE was asked for comments. One official pointed out that the numbers were based on outbreaks reported to his local health protection officials.
Barchester, another major chain, said residents were infected in nine homes. Four Seasons Health Care said 39 of its staff and residents tested positive for Covid.
Healthcare workers stress that despite the increase in infections, the death toll has yet to start to accelerate again. Eight residents died from Covid between July 20 and August 17 at Four Seasons Health Care, which manages 185 homes. No one had died from the virus for more than a month, he said. Bupa said all those infected in his homes were “doing well”.
While nursing home infection rates remain well below those at the start of the year, when 18,000 UK nursing home residents died from confirmed or suspected Covid-19, providers said to the Guardian that testing issues were hampering infection control, with some tests taking more than a week to come back.
“Infections are on the rise, there is no doubt about it,” said Nadra Ahmed, executive president of the National Care Association, which represents small providers. “It concerns staff more than residents, but that’s because they are tested more than residents. This is a challenge for us because we will not discover the residents until it is too late.
Since the beginning of September, ministers have promised weekly testing for nursing home staff and monthly testing for residents as part of the test and traceability system. But frequent delays of more than a week in getting results mean infected staff could spread the virus.
HC-One said that between September 19 and 25, testing of more than 1,000 employees in 12 of its homes took more than a week to come back. This means that the results are almost useless because after seven days the workers have to be tested again. More than 700 of the tests carried out this week were also invalidated, the channel said.
“HC-One has long emphasized the importance and value of routine testing for colleagues and residents, because testing is absolutely essential to mitigate the risk of the virus spreading in nursing homes,” said a spokesperson. word. “It is only through regular testing of staff and residents, as well as broader infection control measures, that we can help keep nursing homes safe and identify asymptomatic carriers as early as possible.” .
The testing issues were creating “fear and anxiety” among the staff, Ahmed said. Some had recently expressed concerns about how to manage the risk of cross-infection of family members returning from college on weekends. “Waiting four days is not good for us,” she says. “It has to be within 48 hours, so you have a better chance of mitigating the risk. This causes enormous frustration. “
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Welfare said, “We continue to prioritize nursing homes for repeat testing, and any nursing home resident or staff with symptoms are able to ” immediately access a free test with more than 120,000 sent every day. .
“Between September 3 and September 16, more than 700,000 tests were carried out in retirement homes with an average result time of less than four days.”