How Employing IPC Best Practices Can Help Smaller Care Homes Survive

By Liz Jones, Policy Director of the National Care Forum

It is a legacy of COVID-19 and not necessarily a positive one. As most of us finally begin to look forward, a number of family-owned care homes are struggling to survive. Many closed their doors during COVID but some who managed to keep their heads above water are now facing the possibility of closure.

According to Liz Jones, Policy Director of the National Care Forum, “most smaller care homes just don’t have the capacity to absorb some of the shocks that came with the pandemic, such as reduced occupancy rates, dealing with constant changes in guidance, staffing pressures, and managing infection prevention and control (IPC).”

Recent data from CCQ provides insight into the issue. Its analysis of adult social care locations that ‘provide residential nursing or personal care in England’ shows that between August 2021 and January 2022, 474 locations de-registered, 340 registered, with a net loss of 134 locations. In terms of capacity, it meant a net loss of 1,617 beds.

Liz says that the figures show that COVID-19 has taken its toll on the sector. “I know it’s a relatively small proportion of the total number of places in care homes, but usually the overall levels of provision remain quite stable,” she said.

Good ventilation is key
One of the reasons for some closures is that many homes built in the 60s or the 70s are not designed for modern IPC needs. Some suffer ventilation issues, and to conform to recommended guidelines would require extensive renovations they can ill afford.

According to Liz, good ventilation is critical to stop viruses such as flu and of course Covid-19 circulating. But not everyone can afford to install the latest ventilation systems in their home. “Moreover, we haven’t received any concrete advice to manage the conundrum of keeping fresh air flowing but at the same time making sure people are warm,” she said.

Employing IPC best practices
She does believe that robust IPC policies can help, which providers can source from compliance platforms such as QCS. “Being a small, older care home doesn’t mean you can’t have great infection prevention and control policies in place,” she said. “And there are essentially four weapons in a care settings IPC armory: testing, PPE, vaccination and hygiene.

“Staff should be well trained in effective IPC procedures. Providers can make sure everyone is following the proper guidance about hand washing, and it’s important to have clearly defined processes around cleaning.

“PPE and mask-wearing are important too, as is following distancing guidelines when someone is unwell. Testing needs to be a regular occurrence, especially as we now know people can test positive and be asymptomatic.

“Finally, vaccination is vital in prevention. A booster programme has just been announced for those aged 65 and over living in a care setting. So that will keep the levels of immunity up.”

Keeping up with changing guidance
What has been particularly challenging for all care providers, but particularly small ones, is the constant changing of IPC and other guidance.

“Keeping up to date with this shifting landscape is essentially a full-time job,” she said. “Our partner QCS, who provides guidelines and standards for the social care sector, has been very supportive throughout the whole period. It does the heavy lifting in ensuring providers follow the latest policies and guidance in an ever-changing IPC landscape. This can help smaller settings run more efficiently.”

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