The hidden cost of the coronavirus pandemic could be the death toll among care homes in North Devon and beyond as relatives await news of loved ones.

Concerns have been raised about how coronavirus is affecting people in care homes. Picture: Getty ImagesConcerns have been raised about how coronavirus is affecting people in care homes. Picture: Getty Images

The Gazette has been contacted by fearful relatives, who did not wish to be named, unable to visit elderly parents due to the lockdown and worried they may never see them after outbreaks of Covid-19 where they are living.

One told us: “Four people my mum’s home lost this weekend and I’m worried to death and can’t see her, yet people still keep telling me ‘oh it’s not here yet’! The staff are being great, my mum’s nurse in particular but people are dying without having seen their loved ones for nearly three weeks.”

Caroline Abrahams, the director of Age UK, has said the lack of PPE and testing is leading to Covid-19 ‘running wild’ in care homes, while chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said on April 13 that around 13.5 per cent of care homes in the UK have registered an outbreak, with 92 in the previous 24 hours.

There is increasing criticism of the Government method of reporting deaths in hospital but not those in the community or care homes.

A study by a London School of Economics-based team has found that 42 to 57 per cent of all deaths linked to the virus in Italy, Spain, Ireland, Belgium and France were among care home residents.

The UK death toll at the time of going to press is 16,509. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on April 21 showed there were 13,121 deaths nationally which involved coronavirus up to April 10 (registered up to April 18) compared to 9,288 in hospitals at the same stage. In North Devon and Torridge at that stage there had been three care home Covid-related deaths.

Another anxious relative contacted the Gazette about Raleigh Mead home in South Molton, run by Eastleigh Care Homes, saying they had heard of deaths and had little or no idea how their loved ones were faring.

The home’s operations director, Kirstie Barnes said sadly a small number of elderly residents had died recently but they had not been confirmed with or shown any signs of coronavirus.

She said: “Our thoughts and condolences are with their families and friends.

“The Raleigh Mead site is one of two Eastleigh care homes in Devon. This home in South Molton does have confirmed cases of residents currently with Covid-19.

“We are working closely with the care regulator, CQC, Public Health England, as well as with our commissioners, and followed all cleansing, shielding and self-isolating advice the moment that symptoms developed in residents.”

She said the company was in ‘a very positive position for PPE’ and families were being encouraged to spend time with their loved ones through video calls.

Ms Barnes added: “Our staff are our strength. They are working in exceptionally worrying times and we have been amazed at their resilience to continue to put our residents at the forefront of their thoughts at every step. We had a short period where staffing was a concern, however this was bolstered by a central emergency team from Devon County Council, who have been very supportive. There have been no concerns about staffing levels to date.”

Care South, which runs Kenwith Castle and Fremington Manor care homes, said it doesn’t currently have any residents with coronavirus symptoms or who have tested positive.

Simon Bird, chief executive, said: “The threat posed by coronavirus to our care homes, residents and our staff is of the utmost importance to us and we continue to follow national guidelines at every level throughout Care South, to ensure all remain safe.

“All staff in all of our homes are working tirelessly to care for our residents, and going to great lengths to make sure that they are cared for, well fed, hydrated and entertained in environments observing the very highest infection control measures, as always. Our staff are well-equipped with appropriate PPE in accordance with national guidelines, and protected so that they can continue to observe the very highest standards of care, cleanliness and infection control. The dedication and commitment shown by them is truly remarkable.

“Care South’s two homes in North Devon - both rated as ‘Outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – have no residents who are either symptomatic or have confirmed positive for coronavirus, and staff are relentless in ensuring that remains the case.”

How is your care home coping with the pandemic? We would like to hear from you, whether you are a care home operator or the relative of a resident. Please email us at newsdesk@northdevongazette.co.uk.