At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the care sector was largely overlooked. But by the end of April, deaths in care homes were increasing at a faster rate than those in hospitals. It was not until 29 April – official lockdown day number 27 – that fatalities in care homes were included in the government’s daily update bulletin.
Health minister Matt Hancock has said “the spread of the virus through care homes is absolutely a top priority,” adding that “building on successful pilots” the government “will be rolling out testing of asymptomatic residents and staff in care homes in England, and to patients and staff in the NHS. This will mean that anyone who is working or living in a care home will be able to get access to a test whether they have symptoms or not.”
However, these tests have yet to reach all of those affected. Despite promises from the government and an increased focus on Covid-19 in care homes, patients and staff alike are struggling to contain the spread of the virus, which has a higher mortality rate for the aged. Sister Marie-Claire Brennan, Mother Superior of Little Sisters of The Poor Home in Glasgow, spoke to the Catholic Herald about the obstacles she now faces.
“The government’s response has been quite poor,” Sr Brennan says. “At the beginning of the outbreak, we had huge difficulty accessing PPE. We put out an appeal for PPE and we now do have it, but this is thanks to the public and not to the government. The public has been extraordinary. As far as testing goes, we are still waiting.”
The Little Sisters run care homes for those “of modest means”. The nuns work tirelessly around the clock to provide care for their patients. “We are here to provide full care,” Sr Brennan says. “Not just care for the residents but our time, our attention and our respect.” The Sisters in Glasgow are currently caring for over 80 patients, and there have been confirmed deaths from Covid-19 in the Home.
They are struggling. Social distancing measures mean that they are unable to organise fundraising events that they rely on so heavily. The majority of the Sisters working in the Home are over 70 and are required to self-isolate, meaning that the Home is forced to outsource staff from agency staff which “has killed us, financially.”
“At the end of the day, the residents are at the heart of everything that we do. We want to keep them safe and our staff safe too. Our staff have been wonderful but they do need support.”