‘Lack of PPE’ flagged up at Catholic care homes

No. 4 in a series of articles reporting on the responses of Caritas member organisations to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lack of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and inadequate access to testing for Covid-19 have been flagged up as issues at some Catholic care homes.

Andy Quinn, Chief Executive of Father Hudson’s Care in Birmingham Archdiocese, reported that other adult care services shared their PPE with St Joseph’s Care Home in Coleshill over the Easter Bank Holiday and that further PPE was purchased “at considerable cost” from other suppliers and private companies. He said, ‘The local authority and NHS have been as helpful to us as they can be, and we have a great relationship with them, but what they could provide was extremely limited.’

A recent message from a local authority indicated that homes with less than a 48-hour supply remaining would be guaranteed sufficient items. Andy Quinn felt that ‘up to now care homes have not been a priority but we think that is changing.’

He felt the lack of testing ‘is almost as serious as lack of PPE’. Three residents have died with confirmed Covid-19, but two weeks ago, with more than 20 staff self-isolating after showing symptoms, there was no testing to confirm whether or not they were virus-free. However, on 17 April 2020 he was informed that staff and residents would be tested. ‘This is early days and we have to see how accessible testing is.’

Despite these difficulties, the team at St Joseph’s remains “strong and motivated”. For end of life care for one resident, a senior care leader worked a double shift of 20 hours, ensuring the resident had a familiar face present throughout. In another case, a resident’s daughter moved into an empty bedroom in the home for a week.

Three members of staff have moved into St Joseph’s and Father Hudson’s estates team are installing more beds in the training room for other staff wishing to stay on-site.

St Joseph’s has a resident chaplain, who is able, following the strict church guidelines, to administer the sacrament of the sick. ‘We also produced a booklet of prayers, hymns and readings that can be read by staff to those who are very poorly or on end-of-life care,’ said Andy Quinn.

Carol Hill, director of Catholic Care in Leeds, said that a recent notification for testing staff in Leeds said they must be self-isolating and must have symptoms. ‘We feel the virus spreads before symptoms emerge and therefore testing only those with symptoms is too late’, she said. She felt provision of PPE was inadequate.

Two residents in homes for adults with a learning disability died last week in hospital, with no family or staff being allowed in. Carol Hill described it as “devastating”. She said: ‘The charity has cared for the two since 2008 and they are members of our family who will be sadly missed.’

Ms Hill expressed concern about staff welfare and financial hardship. ‘Support from the government and local authority in the short term to tide us over until we can safely fill our vacancies after the pandemic is a must,’ she reported.

Paul Bott, Chief Executive of SJOG Hospitaller Services, whose work includes residential care homes, said that, being aligned to the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God, ‘hospitality underpins everything we do’. He explained that, ‘instead of battening down the hatches, we are asking how we can be of help to those in need.’

He described staff as ‘indomitable, inspirational and underpinned by hospitality and Catholic Social Teaching’.

However, he would like the Government to recognise care workers on the same footing as NHS workers.

‘We run our services 24 hours a day, so simple things like the same priority that NHS staff have in doing their shopping would be a really welcome step and would also cost nothing,’ he said. ‘Matt Hancock is the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, but the “and social care” is often edited out from reporting’ he noted, ‘and it would be great to have some parity.’

Tony McLean, Chief Executive of St Joseph’s Hospice in east London, said that they have no confirmed Covid-19 patients, but only this week has testing for staff has started to pick up and new admissions being tested.

‘This will reduce risk for our staff because we will have clarity over their status,’ he said. The hospice has not been happy with PPE provision. ‘We’re not given any priority as a specialist palliative care provider even though we are regulated as a hospital by the Care Quality Commission and not adult social care,’ he said.

Chaplaincy is running as normal but in a barrier nursing environment. He thanked faithful supporters. When the hospice put out a social media post asking for help, ‘our local community was fantastic, sending in gloves, masks and sanitiser gel’. He also underlined that following cancellation of fundraising events, income will be greatly reduced, and an urgent appeal has been launched.

This post is adapted from an article by Ellen Teague, first published in ‘The Tablet’ in association with CSAN.