The impact of the virus on care homes across the country in the first wave of the pandemic was nothing less than catastrophic. In Enfield, 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Enfield were in care homes. The discharge of COVID positive patients into care settings in the first wave, and then the failure of the Government to swiftly roll out regular mass testing for staff and residents, proved to be fatal.
My borough has one of the largest care home markets in London and the impact has been disproportionately felt here with 60% of our 83 care homes suffering outbreaks. It has been heart-breaking speaking to the families and loved ones of care workers and residents who have lost their lives to COVID. Allowing the Government to make the same mistakes again would be unacceptable.
That is why, as we began to spot signs of the pandemic’s second wave, I entirely rejected proposals to explore options for creating more capacity in care homes for COVID positive patients. In September, I wrote to every care provider in Enfield to advise them that any admission to a care home, including from a hospital, must be preceded by a negative antigen test result.
As the pressure on our NHS has mounted for a second time, my position has not changed. I wrote to the Secretary of State in December to call on the Government to share what their plans are should hospitals reach a limit to their bed capacity due to the COVID crisis. Enfield LBC has even offered to identify land for temporary hospital beds for elderly and vulnerable patients with COVID.
In recent days I have been reassured by North Central London Clinical Commissioning Group, which has confirmed that the approach of not discharging COVID positive patients into care homes remains in place for Enfield. However, our local hospitals continue to be under extreme pressure. North Middlesex Hospital’s 382 normal general and acute bed capacity has already been extended by a further 122 beds, with around 300 beds regularly occupied by COVID patients. And even before we have reached the peak of this wave, some ambulances in Enfield are being diverted to other acute hospital sites in central London.
The situation is critical, and the Government needs to develop a robust contingency support system if hospitals become overwhelmed. Additional and alternative hospital stepdown facilities are required for patients who in normal circumstances would remain in hospital until COVID free. Without that, I fear the health system will be pressured to admit COVID positive patients into care homes. We cannot allow this to happen.
The rollout of the COVID vaccine will eventually help ensure our care home residents are protected. However, it will take an estimated five to six weeks to deliver the first phase of the vaccines to all of the staff and residents living and working in our care homes within the borough and in the meantime pressure on our hospitals is predicted to increase.
In the meantime, I am immensely grateful to our care homes and the very hard work they are doing to keep our elderly and vulnerable residents safe.
It is the duty of local government to safeguard our most vulnerable residents, at all times. That is why I am committed to Enfield LBC continuing to do everything we can, together with the NHS, to keep our care homes COVID free.
Cllr Nesil Caliskan is leader of Enfield LBC