A government plan to relieve packed hospitals by designating hundreds of care homes to accept Covid patients has fallen far short of its target, increasing pressure on the NHS.
Only 118 “hot home” social care facilities have been set up across England, despite the Department of Health and Social Care saying in October that up to 500 would be approved by the end of November to prevent beds being blocked in hospitals. They are mostly wings of care homes accessed separately and using separate staff to prevent spreading the virus.
There are now more than 29,000 people in hospital with Covid in England, and more than 3,800 are being admitted daily. But only 2,286 care home bed spaces have been found where patients who may still be infectious can be cared for without the risk of sparking fresh care home outbreaks, according to figures from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which has been checking the safety of proposed locations.
Fifty-eight council areas have not designated any facilities, although some have identified NHS facilities such as community hospitals.
Care bosses have said more designated settings are needed to ensure care homes will not have to take in Covid-positive patients when it is not safe to do so.
“If people cannot be supported to leave hospital, whether that is by moving into a care home or having care at home, then the whole system will fail,” said Vic Rayner, the executive director of the National Care Forum, which represents not-for-profit providers. “NHS saves lives but so does social care, and it must be properly supported to ensure that it can play its vital role in making the whole system work.”
Rising outbreaks in care homes and growing staff absences are causing some providers to stop accepting new admissions.
The number of care homes in England that recorded a Covid infection in the last week of 2020 rose to 503, more than doubling in a fortnight. Care managers are facing absences of between 11% and 50% of staff caused by positive Covid tests, according to a survey by the NCF.
Four residents died and 43 staff were infected in an outbreak at Oakdown House in East Sussex last month, its owner, Mike Derrick, told the Guardian on Monday. “The new variant seems to be so easily transmissible that once it is into a service, it spreads so quickly,” he said. “It’s so much more difficult.”
Derrick, who chairs the East Sussex Registered Care Association, said at least three other homes in his area had had serious recent outbreaks, and the local authority “has serious concerns about several homes every week”.
Last week it emerged that over the Christmas period 13 residents died at Edendale Lodge care home in Crowhurst, East Sussex.
Many care homes are refusing to take Covid patients from hospitals because insurers will not cover risks associated with the virus. Indemnity against such claims, which the government provided to the NHS, has not been extended to social care. Prof Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, which represents private care providers, has called for this to be changed as pressure grows on social care to take more patients from hospitals.
Last week Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS services, said packed wards needed to be relieved by discharging patients into care homes. “Unless we can access this capacity, we’re not going to be able to treat the patients that we need to treat in the NHS,” he said.
The CQC said it was in talks with the government “to address issues of capacity across the country, particularly in areas where there is a shortage or lack of designated settings”.
The DHSC has been contacted for comment.