United Kingdom

Chief medical officer urges relatives to stay away from care homes with one in ten already infected

The chief medical officer has urged relatives of care home residents to stay away and warned that infections among the elderly are certain to rise.

Professor Chris Whitty said at the daily Downing Street update on Tuesday that one in ten facilities already had cases of coronavirus.

It was also revealed that care homes were being asked to take in hospital patients who have tested positive for the virus. One worker described the policy as 'importing death into care homes.' 

Professor Whitty said yesterday: 'Care homes and nursing homes are going to provide us with some of the biggest challenges, and we have seen already that over nine per cent of care homes have reported cases.

'I regret to say I think the number will go up over time. I would encourage people not to go into care homes unless they need to.' 

Sarah Willis care assistant (L) and Maria Mantu care assistant with residents of Bridgedale House care home in Sheffield during the lockdown

So far 70 care home residents have died of COVID-19 but the lack of testing makes it impossible to know the extent of the crisis.

Government guidelines obtained by Sky News, however, said that care homes could be asked to take in patients from hospitals or people currently living in their own homes.

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty holding a digital COVID-19 press conference in Downing street in London

The document says: 'Residents may also be admitted to a care home from a home setting. Some of these patients may have COVID-19 whether symptomatic or asymptomatic.

'All of these patients can be safely cared for in a care home if this guidance is followed.'

Graham Greenaway, owner of Warberries Nursing Home in Torquay, Devon, told Sky that all of the care home owners he knew in his locale had been asked to take in COVID-19 positive patients.

'And I know that absolutely, everybody said no, and there would be a very good reason for that. That would be tantamount to importing death into care homes.' Mr Greenaway said.

At one care homes in Glasgow it has emerged that 16 elderly residents died in the last week after developing coronavirus symptoms but were not tested or taken to hospital. Meanwhile two of the staff members at the home are being treated for COVID-19.

Another eight deaths have been reported at a care home in Dumbarton, with smaller clusters of fatalities at other homes in Scotland.

Scottish Labour has demanded that Holyrood urgently reconvene to discuss a spate of deaths and the recent resignation of Catherine Calderwood, Scotland's chief medical officer.

Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, insisted over the weekend that testing was 'happening now' at care homes and said it had been going on 'right from the start' of the outbreak.

Care assistants with residents at Bridgedale House care home in Sheffield during the coronavirus lockdown

However, Barchester, one of the largest care home groups, said it does 'not currently have access to testing' in its 200 care homes.

And the boss of Runwood Homes, which looks after 4,700 residents, called on the Government to 'urgently address the need for testing'.

Runwood's Gavin O'Hare-Connolly said: 'We do not have access to testing kits in our England-based homes. This is worrying given the trajectory that we have seen across the social care provision in Spain and Italy.'

Labour MP Peter Kyle last night called for Matt Hancock to be 'relieved from his social care responsibilities' to allow another Cabinet minister to give the issue their full attention.

He said: 'We are turning our care system into a hospice system. It's horrific for everyone involved and people will be scarred for life.'

Dr Nick Phin, from Public Health England, said: 'Testing of patients or staff is carried out when appropriate for the ongoing management of an outbreak or where there is uncertainty about the cause of the illness.' 

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