Northamptonshire care homes lost 490 residents to Covid, watchdog reveals
County's social services chief tells of teams working seven days a week for months in battle to stop virus spreading
A breakdown of the numbers of people who died with Covid-19 for each care home in Northamptonshire has been published for the first time.
Figures from independent watchdog the Care Quality Commission revealed more than 490 care home residents died with the virus in the county between April 10, 2020, and March 31 this year.
Just under half of those Northamptonshire deaths — 244 — occurred between April and June 2020.
Anna Earnshaw was Director of Adult Social Services at Northamptonshire County Council when Covid hit the county last year.
She said: “It’s very sad and first and foremost our thoughts are with all families and friends who lost loved ones.
“I can honestly say we did absolutely everything we could to support care homes and, very importantly, we developed very strong regular contact with our care homes to make sure if they had problems, we could help them. And we did help them.
“It was an incredibly challenging time and we were all learning. But these are people’s families and relatives and very very sad that we've lost them.”
There was growing frustration among care home operators, staff and relatives that the government had underestimated the gravity of the virus’ impact in the sector during the early weeks after the first Covid case was identified in Northamptonshire on March 3.
Ms Earnshaw admitted: “We were all learning how virulent it was and who was at risk.
“It’s safe to say there was a lack of understanding about the virus from the top down and from the bottom up.
“In social care, we know that generally we sadly lose thousands of people every year from things like flu. We could certainly see that something was happening in those early months and started to take action immediately to make sure we supported homes.
“The word unprecedented is very, very overused. But as soon as we started to spot things and saw that something was not right and increasing deaths we started to move very, very quickly.
“Teams at the time were working seven days a week for three months in a row without stopping to make sure we covered anybody in a home, care home or in the community trying to make sure they stayed safe.
“We were doing everything we could as we got more advice and information on what we could to try and prevent the spread.
“We implemented a strong, co-ordinated system wide response across health and social care in what was a fast changing situation and addressed the issues as they emerged.
“This meant combining our resources across our Hospitals, Northamptonshire Clinical Commissioning Group, Community Health Services and Adult Social Care within the County Council to protect residents and especially vulnerable people.
“Northamptonshire’s ‘Provider and Care Home’ hub was quickly put in place as a central point of help, advice and additional support for health and care services.
“The hub ensured we had oversight of how care homes were managing and for us to be able to coordinate help, such as additional training, and this became national best practice.
“We also led the way in becoming one of the first counties to prohibit movement of workers between care homes, as well as introducing testing for all care home staff and testing on discharge for all care home residents ahead of the national programme.”
Ms Earnshaw believes care homes in the county were kept supplied with PPE despite reports of shortages at the time.
She added: “Care providers who go into people's homes have always worn a certain amount of protection but we had to ramp it up very very fast.
“The council had stockpiled some PPE ready in case of a shortage following Brexit. As soon as we realised we needed to we started getting it out to care homes and places that needed it.
“Throughout the pandemic we were continually assessing the situation, working with public health, infection control and nursing teams and with other partner agencies to help keep people safe and minimise the risk of infections, as well as provide valuable support and advice. Situations were closely monitored to contain outbreaks and prevent further spread within these settings.”
Families who have campaigned to get the data released say it is vital to have transparency about what happened.
Ms Earnshaw, who is now West Northamptonshire Council chief executive, said: “It’s always helpful to be transparent if you can because people have a thirst for knowledge and to try and understand what went on.
“But the flip side is always a concern about how this affects individuals. Real families lost loved ones and in some ways this could make them feel worse.
“We recognise that our care homes have continued to provide care to their residents during these exceptional times of pressure and uncertainty.
“We would like to once again thank our care home managers and workers and acknowledge their commitment and hard work throughout the pandemic.”
Care home managers have a duty to inform the regulator when one of their residents dies.
From 10 April 2020, they also had to say whether Covid was believed to be a factor in the person's death. The CQC data is based on these notifications.
Previous figures from the Care Quality Commission showing 305 deaths among care home residents related only to those who died in care settings.
New data provided by the regulators includes those who also died in hospital between April 10, 2020, and March 31 and may have already been included in NHS England figures.
It identifies the number of deaths in each care home but the ONS is at pains to point out its research does not indicate poor quality care, particularly given the potential influence of variable factors, including rates of local community transmission, size of the care home, and the age and health and care needs of the people living there.
Accordingly, this newspaper has chosen not to publish these figures here so as to not single out any particular care home.