Explained: How coronavirus spread through Britain’s care homes – BBC Newsnight

published on July 13, 2020

What i can say about how i feel about what has happened is that there has been a real social injustice that has played through it didn't need to be like this

For months hidden away from view coronavirus has rampaged through britain's care homes people could have lived the next two three four five years they took them too early

Only now is a full testing system beginning to take shape but it comes too late for many an empty chair another empty chair where is this this disease that nobody can see

The promise does testing and that has that has been on the news every day day in day out we've lived through the crisis with the charity mha in blackpool burnley and beyond they're

The largest charitable provider of care homes in the country by the end of this around 1 in 10 of their residents will have died many others will recover they've agreed to share with us their journey through

This crisis this is the inside story of what happens when a silent killer infiltrates your care homes the aim of today is to talk about the importance of washing our hands

Okay which is something that we all do all the time as we know about the coronavirus it's very very important that we uphold those policies and procedures it's early march at peniston court in

Blackpool and across mha's 90 homes they've been preparing for the possible arrival of coronavirus for a month already i can see that margaret then you want to turn your hands over

And go right up the fingers well i just get older and go like that lisa manages this home of 36 residents and 45 staff penny stone courts are feeling you

Have to go into penny stone court to know um but it's a very very special place to me partly because of the team they're just so wonderful committed resilient he could have

Sat i love the job because i can be there for them it it's that sense of being giving them that love and that care i'm very passionate about what i do now rub it in your palm like that i'm

Frightened but i can tell myself that 88 years of age you haven't got long to go anyway so it don't matter you look super healthy i think you've probably

Got a long time to go you've got a lot of life to live at the bottom i wouldn't say i was frightened more concerned of to what effect it would have i think

I thought um this is a worry this is something that we have to try and prepare for uh but that essentially we'll be fine because we're a good home we follow excellent infection

Control procedures now there's an easy really really easy way justin happy birthday yeah should we do it happy birthday to you it was all very much the unknown

at the point where newsnite first visited peniston court nobody in blackpool had died of the disease only around 300 people had tested positive nationally

We will give some very specific advice on care homes but one of the things we're keen to avoid is doing things too early back then the limited guidance that was in place in england

Was that there was no community transmission at that point and people in care homes were unlikely to become infected that message became highly controversial at the time at another mha home heather

Grange in burnley the idea it wouldn't threaten life there was a comfort there was some reassurance out there that you know it was all going to be controlled and it

It wasn't coming our way and et cetera et cetera and so we took some stock in that really but in the background made some preparations to think about that we could see what the advice was saying

But we were erring on the side of major caution because we couldn't see how this wasn't going to hit and if it got in then the potential was huge ten days before the uk went into

Lockdown the virus reached an mha home avenly gardens in oldham when the first resident fell ill with coronavirus symptoms because i know ivan lee gardens and i

Know the staff i know the manager very well it was a shock and my fear was how was it going to spread what could we do to prevent it as an organisation

And what would the government think you know going to do at that stage about testing our residents etc there is this feeling of the waters breached the sandbags we kind of paused and thought okay

We've crossed the line this is real back then the authorities weren't advising care staff to wear masks routinely across the homes life was continuing as normal

Behind the scenes the focus was increasingly on planning mha's response to the virus just two days after the first case there was even worse news with the virus appearing in other homes

The charity was starting to log its confirmed or suspected cases the next grim milestone was at westbury grange in buckinghamshire when the first resident died with covered 19

It was a complete surprise after a routine test while in hospital in his prime john simpson had helped found the open university 91 when he died his family described him as simply irreplaceable

The home went on to lose 11 more residents to the virus only five had access to a test a few died in hospital most here in the home with some relatives choosing to go inside wearing

Full ppe for a few precious moments to say their farewells while others took the heartbreaking decision to say goodbye through the window

The toll on staff too has been heavy they take people through to end of life on an ongoing basis that that's what care homes do but not at that pace and not in those circumstances where you've got

Somebody you know the the wife of one gentleman standing outside the window with a phone and her spraying some perfume onto a cloth to put under her husband's nose in blackpool with the virus apparently

Getting closer penniston courts marcina was increasingly realizing it wasn't only residents who were at risk my son he is 10 years old and he's called

Raheem he's absolutely amazing boy and very proud of him marcina relies on her parents for child care she began to plan if the virus reached her care home

That raheem would have to move in with them to protect them all biggest fear is loss because i knew there would be a massive risk of me catching kovid 19 because of the

Environment i'm in and he was very understanding and he was scared and you know he would say to me i'm worried that you get it

On the 17th of march mha took the decision to close all their 90 homes to the outside world residents in homes without breaks were shielding in their rooms the next day it established an emergency

Team or gold command to respond to the unfolding crisis one of its first tasks was to take a charity-wide decision on a policy that even then was contentious because on the

19th of march the government began what it termed the safe and rapid discharge of those people who no longer need to be in a hospital bed most would go home it said but care

Homes would be paid to take a very small proportion it later made clear negative tests for covid19 are not required prior to transfers or admissions into the care home

My managers were challenging the hospitals they were challenging and saying we're not taking anybody who's not out of the test and this was going back and to back into

You know well you'll have to do because we need the beds and we were saying we're not because we you know don't want to introduce covid19 into our care homes and it was an absolute battle at the

Very beginning i was talking to one of my managers last week and she said that it had got so difficult in terms of this discharge process that what she would find is

Hospital wards were ringing up in the evening the care home and saying that the manager had agreed to somebody being discharged from the hospital and the person had enough about them who

Was on duty at night at the care home to ring the manager and say i'm surprised about this but have you agreed and the manager would say no they hadn't and so there was a huge amount of pressure clearly in the nhs to

Clear beds but there were some practices going on to put pressure on to homes to take people which was just completely inappropriate mha had refused to accept hospital

Discharges without a negative test some managers did take back a small number of their own residents who'd been hospitalized meanwhile the virus was creeping its way into more homes

At the top of gold command views were crystallizing about the one thing they really needed routine tests in care homes for all staff and residents i think it's very difficult not to see

That the only real way that this can have come into our homes is through staff picking it up and not being particularly symptomatic or being in the very early stages before they develop symptoms just through the

Community contacts that those people would have had i look back and i struggle to see why we didn't adopt a strategy that was being adopted elsewhere in the world

Of testing tracking and tracing and that we seemed to fly in the face of that without any real rationale or reason i can only convey to you the immense

Frustration at a local level and then at a national level trying to agitate to get what you knew was going to enable you to better manage infection control

In our homes from this evening i must give the british people a very simple instruction you must stay at home a week after mha locked down its care

Homes to all visitors the nation was catching up and the worst was starting at heather grange in burnley mha data shared with newsnite captures

The charity's log of cases without routine testing many were never confirmed formally as covered 19 heather grange was one of the first mha homes to experience an outbreak we got the virus off really

Early doors we'd got a number of residents who became unwell really really quickly all the advice out there was to keep an eye out for high temperatures and a cough well some of our residents

Didn't present with high temperatures in a cough some presented with no symptoms at all and went straight from being okay to actually having quite severe breathing difficulties and needed hospital care

What we got in our heads from from the information we were given from from policy and government and such was this is what you expect to see that wasn't quite what we saw and pretty frightening for the staff as well

Heather grange was home to 57 residents many living with dementia the virus ripped through in two weeks ten residents died it was relentless we'd seen cases where people had

Literally showed some symptoms on a friday and by tuesday that that passed away maybe one two three people passing away in a day so residents that had several more years of

Happy life in front of them became very frail very very quickly it was devastating to watch it was scary to watch it was still early days in the uk's response to the virus

Mark's residents only got tested if they went into hospital most didn't get that far initially there'd been a drive to protect nhs beds other residents had opted for their care to be managed in the place they knew as

Home how much testing was going on for you no there was no testing were you asking for it yeah i actually had a conversation with public health england at one stage and

Asked for tests and i was categorically categorically told and there was no testing for care homes in the northwest we were on our own as a care home we had the support of our company

Who were doing everything they could but in terms of wider public services and government we were isolated testing for care homes wasn't just a problem for mha in the northwest

Of england and without the confirmation testing would have offered we may never fully know how many people died in uk care homes as the heather grange outbreak

Accelerated the prime minister was pressed on why care homes weren't getting enough testing or ppe can the prime minister tell the house in the 80 000

Care homes around britain what date will they expect tests to be carried out on the day that symptoms emerge and every single person working in those care homes will get the protective equipment they

Need well on the on the on the test uh i as i said earlier on the answer is we want to roll that out as soon as we possibly can

And on the on the on the personal protective equipment the answer is by the end of this week did that happen no if we had relied on and had to rely upon the government uh

Supply chain now we would have run out ppe three four weeks ago andrew white heads up mha's procurement team in normal times care homes buy their ppe for staff on the open market

But with such high demand that was drying up the government opened up nhs supplies to the sector even so mha was constantly moving ppe between homes it was hard work but they never ran out

The consequences of that would have been horrendous it would have meant staff not going into work it would have meant a lot of more staff contracting covered it would have meant

More residents dying it would have just been an uncontrollable fire within the care homes it would have just swept through the government pipeline

Has kept faltering it's been inconsistent and it's been inadequate we normally spend around five or six hundred thousand pounds on ppe every year the last eight weeks we've spent 15

Million the list of homes with suspected or confirmed cases was growing and at burnley's heather grange came another devastating milestone

Lynn chadwick was the first mha staff member to die this is the coffee bar at heather grange where lynn worked and also at one stage became our ppe station whilst we were managing through

The virus it was particularly devastating when lynn passed away she knew all the families she knew all the residents she'd paint nails and she'd chit chat about old times and talk to families and she

Was just a very very reassuring presence to a lot of people lynne was 57 two weeks away from her 30th wedding anniversary a mother and dating grandmother where she picked up the virus may never be

Established but we do know care workers are twice as likely to die in this pandemic as the rest of us she had in essence died of pneumonia but with coronavirus some people were inconsolable some

People were very quietly reflecting on it because it really brought it home to the staff team what we're dealing with it wasn't just we're caring for these people who are really poorly anymore

Actually this is could be life threatening for themselves lynn had been such a part of heather grange and mark's home and just to hear mark talk about how he was responding to and

How he was putting his arms around his team it made you hugely proud data given to newsnite shows most of mha's symptomatic residents living in these homes

Never got a test but by early april the charity had recorded a hundred deaths of residents to covered 19 on the 10th of april when we had um when we could count our first hundred

People who had died in our homes then by the 17th to have reached 200 and by the 24th of april to have reached 300 um was a feeling of being to subject to something that you were desperately trying to manage but

Were really struggling to contain from the moment of the emergence of coronavirus we've known that some of the most vulnerable to this disease are in social care and we've been taking

Action right from the start nearly a month after lockdown and a month after mha's first death the government announced its long-awaited action plan for social care the health secretary also made promises

On testing we'll test all symptomatic care home residents and as i announced last friday we've introduced testing for all social care colleagues and members of their households who meet

Who need a test we needed that back around the the 15th of march in in the run-up to the lockdown on the 23rd of march um it was too late a month too late

Lynn passed away had residents pass away and the families that could have changed the outcome for people that early warning that testing could have changed outcomes for people

As the awful news has started to come out of care homes about what's been going on i've thought a lot about the people we met in blackpool just really hoping hoping against hope that they can keep coronavirus out of

That home but we have just had some bad news coronavirus was continuing its creep across the mha estate and in mid-april an outbreak began at peniston court

When a resident tested positive in hospital it was myself that took the call and i'm the kofi coordinator within the home i think my heart sank um that it had

Although in the back of my mind we always knew we were going to be at risk we knew it could happen i was devastated i think the senior staff were naturally devastated we were a little army you know and

Making sure that we were protecting everybody she was heartbroken actually she said oh no you know it's here it's this dread that i was you know dreading it's now here the staff you know are worried

Across mha care homes at the worst point almost a fifth of staff were absent most of them isolating because of the virus at penny stone the situation was even worse more than a quarter were off and those who remained were finding it

Difficult they were becoming very anxious about coming back in for the next set of shifts and i had to do an awful lot of of coaching um and and really trying to

Just be there for them you know not not not necessarily as the manager of penny stone court but as a human being is to try and understand and empathize you know how they were feeling because

It was exactly how i was feeling which was what frightened scared um worried about our own families as well worried about taking the virus home and then on the other hand sort of this overwhelming feeling of

We have to look after our residents it has to happen no matter what no matter how frightened we are no matter how terrible it is you know we commit to this job we don't work in a shop

You know it doesn't close um and i think everyone's commitment absolutely was shown in the end we got through the fear together marcina now herself at risk of covered 19

Had to take the decision she'd been dreading to move her son in with her parents when we met they'd been living apart for a month i've had wobbles when i'm at home and it because it's those times that

Affect me more because i have nothing i have nobody to take care of miso snuggles at night yeah i've had the thought of why am i doing this and then i'll get a text from lisa or a

Phone call and i think yeah this is why i'm doing this this is this is what it's about and we'll get through this when newsnite was here before all this began residents shared their fears of

What might come those we met have come through around a third of the home's residents had symptoms but recovered sadly they've lost two friends we're all still grieving for the

Residents that we lost it's very very fresh and very very raw for us all as a team one of them was 99 year old margaret she was due to be 100 on the 13th

Of may she was the life and soul of the home we promised her a party um she was really looking forward to that party um you know being a hundred is is a huge milestone

And and she really wanted that telegram from the queen what we did to honor her yesterday was we got her name on the blooms with white feathers in chef made a

A special cake for 100th birthday and then we sang happy birthday of course but that was really really tough really really hard to do that a round of testing of all

Care home staff and residents is now underway as part of the government's home testing promise mha have shared their results with newsnite 675 residents or 13

Of the total recently tested positive nearly 45 of them were asymptomatic 426 staff members around seven percent have also tested positive forty-two percent of them were not

Displaying symptoms of covered 19 we've just wanted the tools to be able to manage this situation in our homes more effectively because there have been some staff that probably had it

That didn't know and if we could have known we would obviously have not had them in the workplace you would never knowingly ever ever knowingly do that

I think we've massively been let down by the government they haven't put measures into place for people in care homes how we want and need those tests on a regular basis to ensure the safety

Of the residents because they are the most vulnerable we'll keep working to strengthen the protective ring that we've cast around all our care homes there isn't a ring of steel around care homes

We haven't got the testing routinized and in place yet we've got an insecure and inconsistent pipeline of ppe we haven't got a united front in terms of health and social care yet it's an insult to our carers

They have people who have gone in day in day out they've gone into a risky situation they've looked after people with the virus they've seen many of the residents pass away and they really do care for those

Residents and for government to say that they've put their arm around and protected it's just an insult penny stone's outbreak is over for now at least

Like all staff and residents marcina had a negative test she's taken holiday and has been reunited with her son mha is celebrating its residents who

Have beaten the virus 930 have recovered from either suspected or confirmed covered 19 each recovery is a moment to savor it's a phenomenal experience in our homes when they start

To see the number of people no longer dying but the number of people recovering and we've had amazing instances of where somebody who was 100 contracted it went into hospital in the

End because she was so acute survived came back out and came back into the home and you're going go girl that's just amazing but as of today the charity's toll has

Been heavy they've lost 398 residents in their care homes to either confirmed or suspected covered 19 three staff members have also died and 90

Of their homes have had confirmed or suspected cases carol lives at heather grange in burnley where the outbreak started all those months ago she lost her best friend in the home

Iris she would call harvest you must be missing her oh yeah sure we are so full really dead if people get used to when they get

Talking till then they pop off they pop the trunks i hope that any public inquiry bears testament to the real impact that there has been on the care home sector this has been a

Sector which has been deprived of its voice and marginalized through this pandemic do you think you did do enough to protect lynn and others they'd got all the ppe they needed at all our homes

We hadn't got the testing in place but you wonder if so much of your energy is having to go into these fights to get the things that you know are no brainers in terms of what you need and you wrestle

On an ongoing basis with could we have done more could we have shouted more could we have battered the door down more about testing and ppe and what difference

Would it have made in the face of something that is still like a permeating mist that's creeping around the place mha accepts the government's been dealing with huge challenges

But the toll of this on residents and staff leads them to one conclusion that had different decisions being made and had their residents lives been fully valued fewer may have died the residents in our

Homes you know they have been veterans they are a captain tom you know they've been nurses they've worked they've we've got one lady who's

Churchill's secretary the people that have given this country their lives some of them and they they are and they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity

But all that they've given to the country all their lives day in and day out and they just i just feel that they are lost they are forgotten mha's seen more than twice as many

Residents die in their care homes in these past months compared with normal times those deaths they say must not be in vain in the reckoning that may come

They want social care brought in from the margins with proper reform and financial support a settlement that values staff and enables people nearing the end still to live the best lives they can

Katie russell we asked the government for an interview nobody was available the department for health and social care said our priority is to ensure care workers and those receiving care

Are protected the latest statistics show over 60 percent of care homes have had no outbreak at all we've set out a comprehensive support package for residents and staff including a 600 million

Infection control fund testing regardless of whether you have symptoms and a named clinical lead to support every care home we recognise more must continue to be done and have made 32 billion available to local

Authorities to address additional pressures from coronavirus the department also told us that it has always provided

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