By Mei-Ling Huang is a partner in Royds Withy King’s health and social care team (www.roydswithyking.com)
Earlier this month, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) released full data on Covid-related deaths notified to them between 10 April 2020 and 31 March 2021. Ahead of this announcement, care providers and managers should be preparing to provide the full picture in a respectful, considered way.
All English care homes who submitted a notification of at least one Covid-related death will be included in the data, and this includes deaths where Covid-19 was a suspected cause. Covid- related deaths that occurred in hospital will be included in the figures for a care home if the person was ordinarily a resident there.
Families, residents and staff are likely to be distressed all over again when this story hits the media, so providers should display as much clarity and transparency as possible when they receive press enquiries.
Providers began receiving emails from CQC on 9 July informing them how many deaths would be included in the data for individual homes, breaking them down by quarter. There currently is no way for providers to challenge inaccurate numbers, but CQC have created a dedicated email address so that any providers wishing to report a discrepancy can put this to CQC in writing. (This puts their side of the story on record, should there be any issues in regard to an insurance renewal or need to explain the discrepancy in response to external enquiries.)
If a care home was a designated setting or subject to any other special circumstances which made it susceptible to naturally higher numbers, providers should explain this and write to those concerned, ideally before the data is released.
Many people will have forgotten how desperate things were in the spring of 2020. At the time, many people were discharged from hospital without being tested. The Government advised that it was safe for people to be discharged into care homes. By the time the wearing of masks was recommended, the whole country was experiencing a PPE shortage. There was no vaccine and little understanding of the disease. Providers may need to remind people of those circumstances diplomatically and explain what they were facing in a way that facilitates understanding but does not come across as an excuse.
As difficult as it is, transparency around this data is key and will foster trust and a culture of responsibility. Discussions of this information may cause residents, their families and care home staff to experience feelings of grief all over again.
Providers should send a letter to residents and families so they can hear this news from the home before it hits the papers and social media. Furthermore, information for the press, politicians and other stakeholders should be prepared in advance so providers can deal with questions in a considered and measured way.
Providers should also provide their manager with written information in case they receive queries. There are excellent sector specialist public relations consultants available if they need help articulating a response.
Not only should staff be pre-warned about what is happening, they should be advised to avoid engaging with queries from the press and others. Questions will be answered but the burden of providing a response should not fall to them. Management should ensure there are support mechanisms in place should any feelings of grief amongst staff be reignited and be ready to direct employees to necessary resources.
Providers need to engage with residents and families, protect their staff, and ready themselves for media enquiries. It is difficult to deal with a situation like this but the past can’t be changed so transparency is key now.
Although only recent history, many will have forgotten (or tried to forget) how little information there was at the start of the pandemic and the PPE shortages that took place. These wider issues should be remembered when reading the data release, rather than finger pointing at individual providers.