COVID-19 – telemedicine in care homes

As part of the guidance from the British Geriatrics Society in relation to managing patients with or suspected to have COVID -19 in a care home setting, care home staff should be trained to check the temperature of residents displaying possible signs of COVID-19 using a tympanic thermometer. The guidance states that care home staff, where possible, should also be trained to measure other vital signs including blood pressure, heart rate, pulse oximetry and respiratory rate. This information can then be used by external healthcare practitioners such as GPs during virtual ward rounds and will help to triage and prioritise support of the care home residents and their care staff according to patient need.

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Increase in deaths of people receiving care unrelated to COVID-19

In the last few weeks, the COVID-19 related issues concerning care homes have become increasingly more apparent and a light has been shone on the pressures homes have faced. There has been suggestion that care providers have somewhat been missed by the Government, in respect of PPE, testing of staff and residents, or those returning from hospital. Sadly, since the beginning of April, the number of COVID-19 related deaths which took place in homes among residents overtook the number of care home resident deaths within hospitals. Many have suggested the main factor in respect of this has been the lack of testing of those with COVID-19 symptoms, when they have been returning to their care homes, having been receiving treatment externally.

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Using technology to tackle the issue of COVID-19 within care homes

Release of online portal

Within some of our more recent blog posts, we have commented upon the crisis of COVID-19 deaths within care homes, together with the growing concern that the official figures for the number of these deaths could be a lot higher than that reported.

In response to this crisis, on the 28 April, the Government announced that testing would be prioritised and expanded in the care sector, to include both symptomatic and asymptomatic care home staff and residents. As a result, all care home staff and residents are now eligible for testing with priority for those in homes that look after the over-65s. To aid this additional testing, an online portal has now been released within care homes, enabling care homes to arrange deliveries of COVID-19 tests.

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Do we care?

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the resourcing of care homes that is long overdue.

Following exchanges in the commons and a study by LSE it appears that 22,000 care home residents have died in England and Wales to date as a result of COVID-19 but statistics will no doubt continue to be debated with the lack of testing being a stumbling block for absolute clarity.

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COVID-19 recovery for the social care sector

Following the Prime Minister’s address on Sunday 10 May, detailed guidance has been published today on the Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy, which includes a fresh emphasis on the importance and needs of the social care sector.

Particular emphasis is given to the NHS and capacity and how to protect care homes.  In particular, given the widely reported problems with the supply of PPE, the guidance sets out a specific strategy for PPE, including increased domestic manufacturing capability and more robust supply lines.

The Government also commits to bolstering and investing in the social care sector, recognising that an efficient social care sector will free up pressure on the NHS, as patients can be discharged from NHS care more efficiently to care and nursing homes.

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COVID-19 and Scottish care homes

On 6 May it was announced that five residents had died at a care home on the Scottish island of Skye at the centre of a COVID-19 (C-19) outbreak on the island. 57 residents and staff at this care home have tested positive for C-19. Ten deaths have also recently been reported at a care home in East Dunbartonshire.

Statistics from the National Records of Scotland show that by Sunday 3 May there had been 2,795 deaths in Scotland where C-19 is mentioned on a death certificate. More than four in ten of those deaths (42.8%) have been in care homes. The proportion of deaths in care homes has also been growing, accounting for almost 60% of C-19 deaths between 27 April and 3 May.

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PPE for healthcare workers remains a troubling issue

As reported in our last blog, the Chief Coroner for England and Wales has recently provided updated guidance on inquests, commenting that in the contents of COVID-19, inquests are not a suitable forum to examine high level and government policy relating to the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).

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Further guidance issued by HM Coroner – COVID-19 deaths

The Chief Coroner for England and Wales issued further guidance on 28 April 2020 in the form of guidance sheet number 37 addressing COVID-19 deaths and possible exposure in the workplace.  This will be of significance to those involved in inquests or investigations relating to COVID-19 deaths.

He confirms that the vast majority of deaths from COVID-19 arise from the natural progression of this naturally occurring disease and therefore will not be referred to the coroner. He reminds his coroners of the Ministry of Justice guidance on the Notification of Deaths Regulations 2019 which confirms that a death is to be typically considered unnatural if it has not resulted entirely from a naturally occurring disease process, importantly it goes on, where nothing else is implicated.

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Care providers: COVID-19 and PPE

The previous guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care failed to address adequately the issue of personal protective equipment (PPE) in care homes. With this said, on 15 April 2020 the Department of Health and Social Care published a new action plan for Adult Social Care, which aims to address the concerns, specifically in respect of PPE. This applies to both care homes and generally any setting where people receive adult social care.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Official Guidance for admission and care of people in care homes

Background

The Department of Health and Social Care has provided guidance for care homes, local health protection teams, local authorities, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and registered providers of accommodation for people who need personal or nursing care during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The guidance sets out how to admit and care for residents safely and protect care home staff.[1]

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