GPs have expressed concern for their care home patients, including a lack of testing, as a new CQC data collection signalled that over 2,000 patients had likely died in care homes by last week.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) data up until 10 April said there were 975 deaths in care homes relating to Covid-19. However, having amended its data collection to ask care providers to report confirmed and suspected Covid-19 deaths, the CQC said this number would now be significantly higher.
A statement, published on the CQC website yesterday (22 April), said: ‘The ONS data published yesterday covers the period until 10 April. CQC’s current preliminary analysis is up to 15 April; it is anticipated that the number of deaths in care homes relating to Covid-19 reported by providers between 11 April and 15 April could be double the number of care home deaths reported yesterday.’
In response to the alarming data, GPs told Pulse they fear for the safety of care home patients and staff and said more testing and PPE was needed.
Dr Pipin Singh, a partner in Tyne and Wear, is one of the many GPs whose patients are affected.
He told Pulse: ‘Unfortunately, my practice has first-hand experience of this. For me, some of the issues are around PPE and how much of it the staff have; the inability for visitors to see relatives due to an outbreak; and staff morale and how supported have they been, given the emotional impact losing so many of their residents will have.
‘Testing has been restricted or non-existent, which makes it difficult for GPs to have conversations with families or manage the patients at times, if we are unable to test.
‘Most care homes are privately owned, so what are the individual companies doing to help? I’m also concerned about ensuring patients have appropriate and up to date emergency health plans and resuscitation status.’
Dr Kamal Sidhu, a partner in County Durham, shared the sentiment. He said: ‘The figures coming from care homes are very worrying and a huge concern.
‘This group of patients often tend to be very vulnerable, often frail with complex health conditions and at high risk of cross-contamination.
‘The testing for care home residents has really only become available lately and that has not helped.
‘The Government must do more to ensure there is rapid escalation of availability of testing as well as availability of proper PPE for care home staff.’
Dr Salma Ahmed and Dr Osman Ali, GPs who look after nursing homes in Tower Hamlets, said: ‘We have had a lot of residents who have had or currently have Covid-19 symptoms. Many sadly died, many are stable and some are doing well after their infection and almost back to baseline.
‘Testing residents and care home staff straightaway would help care homes identify when an outbreak happens and help staff to use the appropriate PPE for each patient. Testing residents also helps us to isolate at-risk patients and mitigate spread to other parts of the nursing home.
‘An outbreak in a home involves lots of organising, joint decision-making and sharing of information between the GP, the care of the elderly consultants, public health and the nursing and care homes staff and families.’
The CQC said that it would be looking into what was driving the high number of deaths in a bid to safeguard people.
Its statement read: ‘In common with the ONS, CQC’s preliminary analysis also indicates there may be a significant rise in non-Covid-19 deaths.
‘This is of particular concern and we will be exploring the factors that may be driving this with local authorities, adult social care trade associations, PHE, NHSE – to ensure timely action is taken to safeguard people.’
In yesterday’s press briefing, chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty also said he believed the ONS stastics to be ‘an underestimate’, but he added that they were difficult to prevent.
He said: ‘I’m sure we will see a high mortality rate in care homes sadly because this is a very vulnerable group and people are coming in and out of care homes and that cannot, to some extent, be prevented.’
Earlier this month, hundreds of GP practices in North West London were advised to tell the relatives of care home patients who lack capacity that ‘difficult decisions’ will need to be made around admitting these patients to hospital.
The official UK death toll of Covid-19 in UK hospitals now stands at nearly 19,000, while close to 140,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus.