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Care home was not using PPE when Covid-19 hit

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ONE of the Guernsey care homes worst hit by Covid-19 was not using personal protective equipment when an outbreak was first discovered among its residents – and incorrectly-used PPE was subsequently found to be responsible for the spread of the virus within the home.

President of Health & Social Care Heidi Soulsby speaking at the Scrutiny hearing held yesterday. She is flanked by Dr Peter Rabey and Dr Nicola Brink. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 28465939)

The details were revealed by Dr Peter Rabey, the medical director at Health & Social Care, who was giving evidence at a public hearing to learn lessons from the pandemic in case there is a second peak.

He said that HSC had written to all of the care homes on 3 March to tell them to make sure their business continuity plans were ready, including having sufficient stocks of PPE and not sharing staff.

Following the letter, HSC also telephoned each care home twice to check that they were satisfied with their procedures, and Dr Rabey said at that point they received ‘no concerns’ from the care homes.

Then on 28 March one care home reported some unusual symptoms among several of its residents and on 30 March it was confirmed that testing had found three positive cases there. Up until that stage PPE had not been used in that care home – ‘they did not have it’, said Dr Rabey. HSC got involved and provided PPE and extra staff, but Dr Rabey said initially it was challenging to control the spread of the highly infectious disease.

‘PPE wasn’t being used as effectively as it could have been and it meant further people were infected.’

In mid-April it was announced at one of the press conferences that across four care homes a total of 95 residents and staff had been infected and all 13 of Guernsey’s confirmed coronavirus deaths were among those residents.

Yesterday’s public hearing was organised by the Scrutiny Management Committee and Dr Rabey was one of four witnesses.

Deputy Jennifer Merrett, a member of the SMC, wanted to know whether the help and guidance given to care homes had been enough and whether HSC should have visited the care homes in early March to ensure the advice was clear.

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There was also a question about how a Guernsey care home could have been expected to procure PPE while there was a massive global shortage.

Dr Rabey agreed that lessons had been learned.

‘We trusted them with their business continuity plans, we should have seen the business continuity plans. None of us had ever lived with this, it was a steep learning curve. I have a lot of sympathy for the care homes, no one expected them to be on the front line.’

Dr Rabey added that he was proud of how HSC had worked with the care homes and he also stressed that care home staff had worked very hard in exceptionally difficult circumstances.

At the public hearing there was no sense of apportioning blame. The ‘benefits of hindsight’ were frequently referred to, along with evidence that coronavirus targets the old. Six months’ worth of PPE stock is now in the island.

Helen Bowditch

By Helen Bowditch
News reporter

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