A FEELING the care sector was ‘bottom of the pile’ has been revealed in a report about the county’s care home managers' experiences during coronavirus.

At the height of the outbreak in May, Healthwatch Oxfordshire carried out a survey of the county’s 123 care homes to find out about the pressures they were facing due to the pandemic.

Of those contacted, 36 (30 per cent) of managers responded, detailing problems accessing testing, PPE and staff shortages from illness or self-isolation.

'Overwhelming and rapidly changing' advice early in the crisis was also highlighted, as was the difficulty of managing the risk from patients discharged from hospital into care homes.

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One manager accused the county council, which purchases approximately one third of Oxfordshire's care home beds, of trying to force their home to take in residents who might be positive for the virus.

They said it 'could be a death sentence' adding: "I was put under pressure but stood my ground. It was all about saving money."

A spokesperson for the council denied this was ever the case and said: “We have worked closely with care homes throughout this period, and have not compelled care homes to accept admissions where they were not in agreement to do so."

Oxford Mail:

Nurse in PPE at a care home. Picture: AP/ Frank Augstein

Most care homes, 64 per cent, reported adequate access to supplies of PPE, with many who struggled saying it had been diverted to the NHS.

By late May the report found while many problems had been resolved there were still examples of poor response to requests to Public Health England for testing of residents. One manager said: “The care home sector are viewed as bottom of the pile but we are in a very difficult position and if blanket testing had been introduced early on for all, then lives could have been saved.”

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As well as the challenges faced there were many positives in the report with praise for 'amazing' staff, and county-level support.

It stated: "When the local system coordinated responses and worked together it resulted in many of the challenges care homes faced being reduced. These included sourcing PPE, receiving information, reporting to the system, and the provision of local Covid-19 tests for staff."

Healthwatch Oxfordshire has used the feedback to make suggestions to help ensure the care home sector is better prepared for a resurgence of Covid-19 or a similar outbreak.

Executive director Rosalind Pearce said: “Healthwatch Oxfordshire applauds the commitment and dedication these care homes showed to their residents, and their concern and support for staff. It is important that lessons are learned by working together.”

Oxford Mail:

Healthwatch Oxfordshire director Rosalind Pearce

Its suggestions include an immediate review of emergency planning measures across the system, making sure there is equal access to PPE and testing, as well as ensuring all patients are tested before being discharged into care homes.

The report has been submitted to care commissioners, health bodies and local authorities.

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Dr Bruno Holthof, chief executive of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the John Radcliffe, said the trust supported the findings and was ‘willing to work with system partners to improve support to care homes going forward’.

Diane Hedges, deputy chief executive for Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group also thanked Healthwatch for the report and its ‘rapid turnaround’.

She added: “I am really pleased discussions have already begun from the learning. We will ensure we take things forward across the system.”

Rachel Pirie, acting deputy director of commissioning at Oxfordshire County Council said the authority would ‘certainly draw the findings into plans for supporting care homes going forward’.

Read the full report here