A social care leader believes the true number of care home deaths from coronavirus is far higher than the official number of fatalities and highlights the need for a new national action plan to combat the crisis.
Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, was speaking after Care Inspectorate Wales revealed that just over 500 people had died of suspected or confirmed Covid-19.
But that did not tell the whole story because a total of 2,165 people had died in Welsh care homes since March 1.
That was 98 per cent higher than the number for the same period last year.
Mr Kreft believes that many of those will also have fallen victim to the virus – and in many cases it was imported into care homes after they admitted hospital patients.
Although they were not showing symptoms when they were admitted, the virus had spread like wildfire claiming more lives.
Back in February Care Forum Wales launched a campaign to Shield Social Care and Save Lives. Among the main policies they called for were the early lockdown of care homes, a rigorous testing regime, an adequate supply of PPE and proper financial support to safeguard them from a double whammy of soaring costs and falling occupancy levels.
Mr Kreft said: “The figures we’ve seen from Care Inspectorate Wales are very sobering and a stark warning that we need a national action plan.
“I also suspect the statistics mask the true number of fatalities from Covid-19 which in reality are likely to be far higher. They are almost certainly an underestimate.
“Equally, the Office of National Statistics figure of 2,400 people dying in care home in England and Wales last week was reported as a good news story.
“That shows the measure of misplaced policy that’s been adopted which has meant that care homes have not been protected and that the residents and staff have been treated like collateral damage. There is no silver bullet to overcoming this crisis but we have stressed all along that a proper testing regime was an essential element and, despite promises to the contrary, that regime is still not properly in place.
“Even when we were informed that residents with suspected Covid-19 were not going to be admitted to hospital, care homes were still not issued with proper PPE and people discharged from hospitals into care homes were not tested.
“Quite frankly, it was a disaster waiting to happen and we’re not being wise after the event because we have been saying this all along.
“Looking the future, we have also been stressing the need to ensure the sustainability of the social care sector in the long term.
“In the words of the First Minister, the sector was already fragile going into this crisis and without an urgent national action plan we are going to have mass care home closures across Wales which would also have a catastrophic impact on the NHS.
“We are witnessing a huge occupancy issue. For a care home to be economically viable you need around 90 per cent of the beds occupied.
“What we’re seeing is that occupancy levels are plummeting as low as 20 per cent in some cases.
“Providers are legally obliged to ensure that care homes are economically viable to pay the bills and the wages and to meet the needs of the residents – something that’s going to be impossible for many of them without an effective rescue plan.
“The sector has been the victim of chronic underfunding as a result of public policy over 25 years, driven by local authorities and health authorities.
“It is inconceivable that these 29 different organisations will be able to step up to the plate and resolve the existential problems facing the sector which is why we need a national action plan as a matter of urgency.”