Professional Comment

Infectious Diseases – The True Cost to Social Care

By care sector expert Philip Smith

For the last 18 months or so Covid has dominated the thinking of the care sector, and quite rightly so. It is the biggest challenge ever faced, particularly by frontline staff but also senior executives juggling staff and resident safety with fiscal issues all the while trying to keep up with latest government regulations.

However, before Covid was even a word in our vocabulary care homes were dealing with infectious illnesses on a regular basis, from winter vomiting through to flu and many others. This started me thinking, given the future funding of the sector is the current hot potato, how much money each outbreak of illness costs a home, and the industry as a whole.

I have been involved in the care sector for more than 20 years, have been chief executive and chairman of care home and hospital groups and I own a care home, but I do not believe that the cost of illness from infectious outbreaks in the care sector has been properly calculated before and I was very surprised, and shocked, by the out- comes. Even using conservative estimates for the calculations, it has highlighted the significant real-world impact of infectious outbreaks in care homes.

After a great deal of research, both data driven and anecdotally from senior figures with significant experience operating care services, I concluded that non-Covid infectious outbreaks in care homes could be costing the sector up to £70million every year.

My report uses instances of diarrhoea and vomiting (D&V) and concludes that for an average care home the cost of a one-week occurrence could be anywhere between £2,200 and £8,400 depending on the length of the outbreak and the number of delayed admissions. This includes extra PPE, one-off deep clean, staff absence and delayed admissions.

This puts the cost to the care sector at a minimum of two million hours of care lost each year.

This research is pertinent to every part of the care sector and demonstrates the financial cost to operators and services of outbreaks of illness and the effects to the bottom line, which is already squeezed.

The thought that tens of millions of pounds and the lost care equivalent of up to 1,500 carers is just written off every year is a damning indictment and I hope that politicians, the regulator, commissioners and care home operators take note and together we can look at measures to mitigate both the financial and care implications. Care homes need a collaborative, ‘intelligence’ led system that enables the sharing of data and allows early interventions to be put in place.

Given the experiences of the pandemic, surely we must all wake up and realise that although we may not have another virus on the scale of Covid for a very long time, the illnesses we know we will face every year are still doing considerable harm to the health of residents, staff and the finances of the beleaguered care sector.

A link to the full report can be found here