The number of deaths in adult care homes in Wales doubled in the first two weeks of April compared to the same period last year.
Care Inspectorate Wales recorded a total of 486 deaths between April 1 and 14 – an increase of 266 from the same period in 2019.
With many deaths in care homes not recorded as involving Covid-19, there are concerns that the true number of people contracting the disease in care homes is being under reported.
Victoria Lloyd, Chief Executive of Age Cymru, said: “The situation surrounding care homes is extremely worrying for residents and their families, as well as the care home staff.
“People living in residential care are some of the most vulnerable individuals living in our communities and we must make sure we don’t overlook them or the staff that are working so hard to take care of them.
“Given how unwell most care home residents already are and the fact they are clustered together, it was always going to be very important to make sure the right support was provided to help care homes keep the virus out.
“It is imperative that care homes have the testing and PPE they, their staff and residents are entitled to expect.”
The Welsh Government has announced an extra £40m to support adult social care services, including care homes, during the pandemic.
However, the Joint Council for Wales, a forum made up of local authority employers and trade unions, have warned the government that elements of its PPE guidance aren’t clear enough, putting care workers and clients at risk.
Specifically, they say a lack of clarity in the official advice has led to some care workers being told they only need to wear one set of PPE for multiple patients, increasing the opportunity for cross contamination.
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Dominic MacAskill, Head of Local Government at UNISON Cymru, said: “It is absolutely vital that all social care workers are properly protected as they go about their essential work during the pandemic.
“There is a duty on Welsh Government to urgently ensure the guidance on the use of PPE equipment is clear and indisputable.”
The Welsh Government has failed to meet its testing target for April, giving rise to concerns that there is not enough testing in care homes.
The government had aimed to carry out 5,000 tests a day in Wales by mid-April, however current capacity is believed to be 1,300.
The government’s current testing policy means care homes must first contact their local authority to request testing for a member of staff if they are displaying symptoms of the disease.
Delyth Jewell, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales East, told Caerphilly Observer: “It’s dreadful to hear that there’s been a rise in deaths in care homes.
“The government’s disastrously short-sighted decision to stop testing in the community means we don’t know how prevalent Covid-19 is in care homes.
“It all comes down to the lack of testing and the Welsh Government has been caught seriously wanting in this.”
Responding to criticism, a Welsh Government spokesman said: “We are testing symptomatic residents and staff in care homes across Wales. We are increasing our capacity to test more workers locally before the home testing service is ready.”
However, those working in the sector say that by only testing staff who are displaying symptoms, the government is ignoring the fact that many staff may be carrying the disease despite being asymptomatic.
Hefin David, AM for Caerphilly, said: “The voice of care workers and their concerns must be heard. I am in regular contact with the Joint Council for Wales and I have put their concerns directly to Public Health Wales.
“Whilst it is important to note that Care Inspectorate Wales is not able to identify the number of deaths attributed to Covid-19, behind every death there is a human story.
“The death of a loved one is a traumatic period for close family members. It is vital that we remember everyone who has been affected by this terrible disease.
“We must work to minimise infection and by staying home, we are flattening the curve and reducing cases.”
Latest information on Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Most cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) seem to be mild.
Coronavirus is a viral disease that can cause coughing, fever and difficulty breathing. It can be more severe in older people, those with weakened immune systems and some long-term conditions like diabetes or cancer.
Source: Public Health Wales