Crucial plans to free up space in hospitals this winter were in disarray last night after care homes refused to take coronavirus patients unless the Government protects them from legal claims.
The row means thousands of pensioners now face the prospect of being stuck in hospital alone at Christmas.
The Department of Health wanted to discharge elderly people from overcrowded wards into 500 new dedicated care homes until they are no longer infectious – but only 83 suitable sites have been signed off so far.
Many care bosses have refused to join the scheme because they fear being sued by families if there is an outbreak on-site. Ministers have so far failed to give them much-needed indemnity from Covid-19 legal claims – one of the Daily Mail’s key demands in our campaign to help residents be reunited with their loved ones this Christmas.
Shirley and Freddie Lowe reunited at King Charles Court care home, Falmouth. Shirley and Freddie were kept apart since March to avoid the risk of coronavirus spreading through the home. Their emotional reunion was captured by staff
Other care home managers have pulled out because of stringent requirements, such as finding staff who would only work in the dedicated homes so they do not risk spreading infection to residents elsewhere.
If more of the special homes cannot be found, it will mean thousands of frail pensioners who have tested positive for Covid-19 will be left stranded in hospital wards over Christmas – unable to receive visitors as well as preventing new patients being admitted.
Last night Professor Martin Green, of Care England, told the Mail: ‘This is now a matter of urgency but the Department of Health cannot seem to think in an urgent way. There’s a simple solution which is to give indemnity to social care just as they did for the NHS.
Fear of being sued by bereaved families
'If they did that, there would be more people joining the scheme.’
The plan was devised as a way to free up beds in NHS hospitals for new Covid-19 sufferers this winter without repeating the deadly mistakes of the spring when thousands of patients were discharged into care homes without being tested for the virus first.
This time, the Department wrote to every local authority in England asking them to identify a local building that could be used to keep recovering Covid patients in isolation for a fortnight.
This would allow them to leave hospital safely and avoid the risk of infecting their families or other residents in care.
The hope was that 500 ‘designated settings’ would be approved by watchdog the Care Quality Commission by the end of this month. But new figures published last night show that only 83 settings have been approved, containing 1,023 beds. Only 74 of the 151 councils in England have a designated setting so far.
Altogether, 355 settings have been put forward, but 108 have been rejected as unsuitable by the CQC while dozens are still waiting to be assessed. The main reasons given for rejections included ‘not enough separation’ between the designated service and the rest of a care home and ‘no designated staff team’ to work exclusively in the setting.
Several town halls cited fears over insurance as reasons why no homes could be found in an audit by the Mail.
Rita Kay, who died in care, with her granddaughter Lucy. Deborah Frost saw her mum, Rita Kay, for the last time the day before her care home locked down
Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire said: ‘We understand that care home providers have raised concerns about the national issue of indemnity insurance which have been escalated to central government and many homes are still waiting for a response.’
Dorset County Council said: ‘A few initially came back as interested, but have since dropped out due to the CQC requirements and/or the inability to obtain insurance cover.’
Nadra Ahmed, of the National Care Association, said: ‘People are nervous about the insurance issue. There’s a lot of reservations.’
However, a handful of the Covid care homes have now started to take hospital patients in Derby, Lincolnshire and Southampton while ten beds in Liverpool will go into service this week.
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Our ambition is for every local authority to have access to at least one CQC-designated setting as soon as possible ahead of winter.
'We are working closely with the sector as we put these arrangements in place to ensure we deliver the right care for everyone.’
We can hold hands after 8 months
Holding hands for the first time in eight months, Freddie and his wife of 63 years, Shirley, smile at each other as they are reunited.
Staff at King Charles Court care home in Falmouth, Cornwall, captured the image of the couple, both 79, which was made possible after the home was selected as one of 20 in the UK to trial a rapid test system.
Manager of the home Melissa Jones said: ‘Before the pandemic Shirley was here most days and would spend any time she could with him. They are just so in love and are like they have just been married.
‘This has been their first contact since March. They were able to hold hands and have some privacy and that meant everything to them.’
Mrs Lowe said: ‘It was so wonderful to see him and hold his hand. I was so pleased and grateful for everything the home has done to make this happen.’
I couldn’t visit my dying mum
Deborah Frost saw her mum, Rita Kay, for the last time the day before her care home locked down.
Months later, Mrs Frost, 51, watched her mum take her final breath over a video call.
Mrs Frost feared she was seeing her mum for the last time when she raced to her care home in Bradford when she heard it was locking down in March.
Mrs Kay, pictured with her granddaughter Lucy, had a rapid form of dementia. During lockdown, Mrs Frost only saw her mum via video calls, but she said this was useless as the care home’s phone never had any data.
Her brother was the only family member allowed to visit, but on the first and only visit, his mum became distressed at not being able to touch him and had to be held back.
Mrs Frost said she begged the care home to see her mum and offered to get a Covid test, but only one nominated family member was allowed to visit.
On October 2, Mrs Kay’s condition deteriorated and she was transferred to a hospice for end-of-life care. Mrs Frost was video called and watched her mum take her final breath.
Mrs Frost said: ‘I’d have rather my mum died of Covid as long as she was with her family.’