FEAR of coronavirus may put people off moving into care homes after the pandemic, though Oxfordshire’s care providers are hoping that ‘business as usual’ will resume.

The social care sector is facing an uncertain future as lockdown eases, after Covid-19 spread among elderly residents living in care homes across the UK.

At the peak of the pandemic between April and June showed 220 of 470 (46.8 per cent) of deaths in Oxfordshire’s care homes were Covid-related.

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There have been calls from some to give more funding to the sector, in the hope that this could help care staff and future residents feel safer.

Of the residents in Oxfordshire’s care homes, approximately two thirds are self-funders, who pay for their care out of their own pockets; the other third have their care paid for by Oxfordshire County Council.

'Business as usual'

Care home manager Jane Roberts runs two small homes in West Oxfordshire: Rosebank in Bampton and Churchfields in Cassington, employing 100 staff who look after approximately 60 residents at the two homes.

Mrs Roberts said the lockdown had been ‘a challenge for everybody’, but emphasised that moving into a care home was now safe.

She said: “I think for a time people have had an awful lot of imagery about the care sector that homes are not safe, and it has been badly affected. Actually that is a false impression it gives. The message is that they are safe and as a sector we are now open for business.”

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Jane Roberts. Picture: Simon Lane

She added that her aim was now ‘increasing the quality of life for residents’ by restarting activities which had been stopped during lockdown.

At the same time, Mrs Roberts is finding ways to support staff after the extra pressure at work they have faced, including bereavement counselling.

She added new admissions had begun to come into the home with life returning to normal there.

'Fewer admissions now'

In contrast, a carer working for a different Oxfordshire care home has said that she does not think people are so eager to move into homes if they need help as a result of the pandemic.

The carer, who did not want to be named, said she had seen fewer admissions to the home where she works in recent weeks.

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She said: “More residents passed away than we would have normally lost during the pandemic. Ongoing, it has had an effect and people are now not wanting to go into care homes now.

“We are now having more short-term palliative care residents.”

The carer said her experience of lockdown had been ‘incredibly emotional’ and wanted to see better funding for the care sector after the pandemic ended.

But she said she did not think the homes which had suffered with Covid outbreaks had worse care, but had just been hit by bad luck.

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An anonymous carer has spoken about the pandemic (stock image)

She added that at one point she moved into the care home for a month to avoid the possibility of transferring coronavirus into the home.

Despite this, two residents at the home died as a result of Covid-19, having received a positive test.

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Staffing also became difficult at the height of the pandemic with between seven and eight out of 10 staff who were meant to be covering the home off sick at once.

In the future, she said she would like to see a nationalised care service to properly fund the care sector and boost the pay of staff, but did not know if there was the political will for it.

National Care Service

One group which is also calling for this is the National Pensioners Convention.

An Oxfordshire spokesman for the group, John Paine, said media coverage during the pandemic had likely contributed to fear of living in care homes.

He added: “It is probably too early to say whether it is an issue which will stay in people’s minds but it has not been helped by the fact that the government forced care homes to accept people out of hospital without them being tested.”

The NPC is campaigning for a free to use care service and providing professional training for carers.

Government ministers have spoken throughout the coronavirus pandemic of changes to the social care sector, but there is no indication of how these changes might look yet.