Covid deaths in care homes ‘could rise without key funding beyond March’

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Deaths of care home residents with coronavirus could increase, providers may stop operating and visiting could be curtailed if the Government does not extend key funding beyond the end of March, a care boss has warned.

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of the membership group Care England, said the social care sector will be put under “severe pressure” if three funding streams run out at the end of the month.

The Government has provided £1.146 billion through the infection control fund to help adult social care providers reduce transmission within and between care settings.

It is intended to support staff who need to isolate, limit staff movement between settings where possible, support the recruitment of additional staff, support safe visiting and meet admin costs for organising testing and vaccinations.

The £149 million adult social care rapid testing fund and £120 million workforce capacity fund are also in place until March 31.

And the Government has said providers can receive free personal protective equipment (PPE) until June.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it is reviewing the need for further funding and decisions will be made “in due course”.

Prof Green told the PA news agency: “I think certainly if we lost things like the free PPE or if we lost the infection control fund, because we’ve got low levels of occupancy it will put a huge strain on the care provider.

“They might not be able to, for example, offer as much support as they might in things like visiting. Some care homes will find themselves in a very, very desperate financial position and may actually cease to operate because they will not be able to sustain things because of the extra expenses.”

Prof Green also said the trend in falling Covid-19 deaths of residents could start to reverse without continued funding and support to minimise infection spread, as vulnerable residents have not all received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine which delivers the highest level of protection.

Registered care home resident deaths involving coronavirus have fallen more than three-quarters in a month, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

And overall care home deaths have been below the five-year average for three successive weeks.

Prof Green added: “It is only going in the right direction as long as you maintain the structures in place, the funding you’ve got in place.

“If you take away some of those things, the direction may go into reverse.”

Care England and other care groups have been calling for urgent clarity on whether the funds will be extended.

Any discussion around removing funding for care homes should only happen when cases have been brought under control in the general population, Prof Green said.

He added he was aware of some care homes not feeling able to restart indoor visits until they knew whether the funding would be extended.

He said this was “very worrying” given that relatives are now “expecting to be able to do this”.

He believes the Government “caved into pressure” when it said all care home residents could receive regular indoor visits from a nominated person from March 8.

He added: “If they had said that visiting would start when people have had a second dose, then that would have been more sensible, but I think they just caved into pressure, and of course the consequences are really significant. If we have a situation where we have an outbreak in a care home, what happens is lots of people could die.”

A DHSC spokesman said: “We have spent billions of pounds on adult social care during the pandemic including on infection and prevention control measures, free PPE, priority vaccinations and additional testing.

“We are incredibly grateful for the efforts of staff across the social care sector who are working tirelessly on the front line of this pandemic and we are committed to providing the sector with the support it needs.

“Funding to support testing, staffing and infection control measures is in place. We are actively reviewing the need for further funding and decisions will be made in due course.”

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