Dr. Freddy Gathorne-Hardy, a founder member of the non-profit organisation The Live-In Care Hub, recently published a thought provoking leadership piece detailing why it is time to rethink the UK care system and question the safety of its care homes, especially in light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. He also questions why healthcare and social professionals still view the care home setting a ‘good choice’ when there are safer alternatives.
Dr. Freddy Gathorne-Hardy explores the grave number of COVID-19 deaths in care homes and the unnecessary loss of life in our older generation. In a recent joint study by the Office of National Statistics and the Care Quality Commission (CQC), there were 14,428 care home related COVID-19 deaths by the 9th October 2020.
Gathorne-Hardy reflects, “It shouldn’t be a choice between which care home is least likely to result in premature death. People deserve another option that promotes and delivers quality of life.”
The article highlights the main reasons why care homes may not be the safest place to reside, especially during a pandemic;
Patients sent to care homes with COVID-19 but the care home is not notified
Care home residents live in close proximity to each other
Staff care for multiple residents within the care home
All these factors increase the chance of cross contamination between staff and residents.
The article also touches on the impact lockdown within care homes has had on residents’ mental health. With some care homes imposing strict social distancing rules, residents were kept in their rooms, isolated from other residents, daily activities and routines.
“While we know that older people have suffered from significantly reduced social interaction as a result of lockdown, there are many heart-breaking stories of isolation within care homes where lack of social interaction should not have been an issue, in theory. Stories of residents being kept in their room for weeks at a time at the height of the first wave of the coronavirus show how the ‘rules’ were enforced with such vigour in some care homes, that charities and organisations are investigating claims of human rights abuse of the elderly.”
So is it time to question how safe care homes actually are for our aging population?
It is mentioned that live-in care is relatively unknown in the UK as a viable option of care, but has significant benefits when compared to a care home setting.
The Live-in Care Hub surveyed live-in care organisations that collectively care for 2,926 elderly people. It was reported that during the first wave of COVID-19, only 10 elderly people tested positive and 10 live-in carers tested positive. These cases were also not directly related. Of these only 5 elderly people died from COVID-19 or a related illness. This results in only 0.17% of those receiving live-in care have died of the virus, compared to a startling 29.3% within a care home setting.
Gathorne-Hardy argues that everyone should question the decision to discharge to a care home, especially if someone has previously been living at home and if their rehabilitation is for a short amount of time. It is stated that the implications on someone’s mental health can be worrying, and with the current pandemic, risk of infection is greater.
It is noted that the care home market has remained stable since 2001, even with an ageing population. Gathorne-Hardy suggests this indicates that people are now choosing alternative care options, but Government funding needs to adapt and recognise live-in care as an option that can receive funding assistance. Gathorne-Hardy explains;
“More than 50% of people in care homes receive some funding from the UK Government, but only 6% of live-in care fees receive contributions from the Government. What this effectively means is that people are pushed towards care homes regardless of their financial situation. So if finances are not a stumbling block then a rethink of elderly care policy is long overdue.”
Gathorns-Hardy concluded the piece with a final thought about the current care home situation and the real alternative of live-in care.
“With an existing, well-established alternative to care homes already existing in the UK now is the time for a serious review and overhaul of the default care option offered to those that require care, especially since COVID-19 is thought to be part of a pattern of pandemics that are set to increase in frequency in the coming years. Why put your life at risk unnecessarily?”