Care home bosses urge ministers to protect them from being sued

Save care homes from being sued: Bosses urge ministers to protect nursing centres against the crippling cost of legal claims… just like the NHS

  • Care homes have been hit by soaring insurance premiums and running costs
  • Bereaved relatives could ruin firms if they decide to take them to court
  • Care home bosses want ministers to give indemnity to Covid-related damages  

Care home bosses are pleading with the Government to protect them from being sued over outbreaks of coronavirus.

Firms have been hit by soaring insurance premiums, and many still cannot get cover for Covid-19, which could leave them ruined if they are taken to court by bereaved relatives of residents. 

The fear of being crippled by legal costs is also making some managers more cautious about allowing visitors in to see loved ones.

Care home bosses are pleading with the Government to protect them from being sued over outbreaks of coronavirus

But the industry says ministers could easily solve the problem by giving indemnity to social care providers for Covid-related damages, just as they did for the NHS when the pandemic struck.

The social care sector wants the Government to give it indemnity

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: ‘The Government must step in. They need to do it as a matter of urgency because it’s a big issue. If they don’t, it will restrict visits and put some services out of commission.’ 

Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group, said: ‘It would make a big difference to visiting. At the moment, if you get an issue from visits you can’t get covered for that.

‘We feel we don’t get treated the same as the NHS and this insurance issue is a part of that.

‘All we’re asking for is for the Government to stand behind us if we get a claim.’

Care homes are having to deal with added costs and fears over insurance after a year in which they have had to spend massively on PPE, extra staff and building works to make homes safe – as well as losing income from having fewer residents.

All care homes are required by the Care Quality Commission watchdog to be insured against potential claims arising from death or serious injury on their premises, and most have public liability and employer’s insurance cover totalling more than £10 million.

All care homes are required by the Care Quality Commission watchdog to be insured against potential claims arising from death or serious injury on their premises

But many have struggled to get cover this year as brokers and underwriters have taken fright at the size of the potential damages arising if the estate of a resident who died from coronavirus brought a claim against a home. Others have been quoted huge increases in their premiums.

Councillors in Lancashire were told last week about one home whose premium had increased by 500 per cent. Mr Padgham, managing director of St Cecilia’s care group in Scarborough, was told his premium would rise from £10,000 a year to £98,000 – but managed to settle for £18,000.

And even those who have paid more have been told they are still not protected against Covid-related claims.

Raj Sehgal, who runs four care homes in Norfolk, said: ‘If somebody was to come into a home and bring Covid in and one of your residents dies, there’s a potential claim. It’s a hard thing to prove but we rely on the insurers to take over. We are not in a position to take over the legality of a potential claim coming in.’

The issue has become even more pressing now that the Department of Health and Social Care has asked councils to find care homes willing to put hospital patients with coronavirus in separate buildings.

Care homes are having to deal with added costs and fears over insurance after a year in which they have had to spend massively on PPE, extra staff and building works to make homes safe

The social care sector wants the Government to give it indemnity – covering damages, settlements and legal costs related to Covid legal cases – as it has done for the NHS since the spring.

James Bullion, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said it would help the search for places to discharge infectious hospital patients. He said: ‘The easing of the indemnity question would considerably help care homes in cooperating with this process. We don’t at all wish to blame care homes for their natural caution about taking on this particular role.’

The Association of British Insurers said: ‘Insurance remains available for care homes, provided they are well managed and risks are adequately controlled. Insurers and brokers are working with care homes on managing risks as well as possible, as this will increase their chances of getting affordable cover that meets their needs.’

And the International Underwriting Association said: ‘The impact of Covid-19 has, unfortunately, dramatically increased the risk profile of care homes seeking to obtain public liability insurance cover. Many insurers have needed to adjust their premium levels and terms of cover in order to ensure they can continue to provide a service for clients in the long-term.’

Last night the Department of Health said: ‘We are working closely across government, with care providers and insurance representatives, to understand the breadth and severity of the issues, and whether there is any action the Government should take.’

You CAN hold granny’s hand at Christmas! Breakthrough for Mail as minister pledges tests for ALL care homes… and new national guidelines to allow visits  

Families with relatives in care homes can now look forward to hugging and holding hands with them this Christmas.

In a victory for the Mail, Matt Hancock vowed yesterday to extend Covid testing to visitors nationwide within weeks.

Care residents have been cruelly separated from family and friends since March – able to see them only through ‘prison-style’ screens or windows. Some sites allow no visits at all.

Families with relatives in care homes can now look forward to hugging and holding hands with them this Christmas, Matt Hancock has vowed

But under the testing drive, loved ones will be free to hold hands and hug as long as visitors have a negative result for coronavirus and are wearing personal protective equipment.

The change in policy follows a campaign by this newspaper highlighting the devastating impact of pandemic restrictions on the country’s 410,000 care home residents.

Health Secretary Mr Hancock said: ‘Our goal is to ensure that we have the testing available in every care home by Christmas – to make sure people can take a test and therefore see their loved ones safely.

‘I would like to thank the Daily Mail for campaigning on this issue and shining a light on some of the incredibly distressing stories that have sadly been too common over the last few months.’

He said increased testing would ‘bring families together once again’ and ‘pave the way for a Christmas spent with family where possible’.

Charities said the promise to allow meaningful visits provides ‘light in the darkness for hundreds of thousands of older people and their relatives’.

Under the testing drive, loved ones will be free to hold hands and hug if visitors have a negative result

But care home bosses also warned ministers must start preparing now for the roll-out of mass visitor testing to ensure it is not an ’empty promise’.

Campaigners said rapid tests should be distributed immediately to care homes for key visitors, adding: ‘Christmas isn’t soon enough for many people affected by dementia.’ As researchers announced a new Covid-19 vaccine found to be 94.5 per cent effective:

  • Britain bought 5million doses but other countries may get it first because of the failure to place an advance order;
  • Another 213 virus deaths were reported yesterday, up from 194 a week earlier, with 21,363 further cases;
  • Experts said the ‘Operation Moonshot’ plan to mass test the whole population could ‘fail miserably;
  • A study found up to 10,000 more people may have died in care homes from Covid-19 than previously thought;
  • Families could face a ban on mixing for months after the lockdown, officials said;
  • Boris Johnson plans to take part in Prime Minister’s Questions virtually because he is in self-isolation.

Last Thursday the Mail launched its Christmas campaign urging ministers to allow isolated care home residents to reunite with loved ones.

We highlighted how cruel visiting restrictions are linked to thousands of excess fatalities in care homes, with residents dying ‘of loneliness and lack of love’. Distraught parents have also been banned from seeing their disabled children for months under ‘inhumane’ visiting rules.

Cruel visiting restrictions are linked to thousands of excess fatalities in care homes this year

The key demand of our campaign was for each resident to have at least one relative, friend or carer designated as a ‘key visitor’ who is tested before entering a care home.

Today an official pilot scheme will begin testing visitors at 20 sites across Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall.

Mr Hancock said he aimed to expand the scheme to every home by Christmas. They will use either PCR swab tests or new lateral flow tests, which give results within minutes. Both can be done on site.

Fiona Carragher of the Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘It’s good news to hear Matt Hancock’s commitment to ensuring families can see their loved ones in care homes by Christmas. As the Daily Mail’s campaign has shown, continued isolation is a matter of life or death for people with dementia.

‘However, heartbroken partners, families and friends have been waiting eight months, and it’s absolutely tragic so many are missing the final weeks and days of their loved ones’ lives.So it’s crucial that the Government learns lessons speedily from the pilot and it must not be an excuse to delay national roll-out. It’s important Matt Hancock keeps his promise, as Christmas isn’t soon enough for many people affected by dementia.’

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, added: ‘The stories featured in the Daily Mail’s campaign have been harrowing and bring home just how vital visiting is for care home residents, and their loved ones as well.

‘The Government’s promise to have enough testing in place so care home visiting can resume everywhere by Christmas will be a light in the darkness for hundreds of thousands of older people and their families, and it’s imperative that this promise is kept.

Clock’s ticking, Mr Hancock… 

With just 38 days until Christmas, Ministers face an enormous logistical challenge if they are to fulfil their promise to expand visitor testing to all care homes.

The current pilot scheme, launching today, is operating in just 20. But that must be scaled up to all 12,000 in England if the plan is to succeed.

Allowing safe visiting requires an urgent injection of funding so homes can buy equipment. 

Hundreds of thousands of tests must also be distributed. The National Care Forum said the initiative will involve each home effectively setting up a ‘mini-lab’ to oversee the swab testing of visitors.

Staff will also have to be trained to oversee and carry out the testing of visitors.

Vic Rayner of the NCF said: ‘The implementation of this must start now – the Christmas countdown has well and truly begun. We need an urgent timetable that provides adequate funding to get in place the necessary training, systems and arrangements.’

Another challenge facing ministers is that councils are allowed to overrule national guidelines – and the Local Government Association yesterday insisted councils should still decide their own rules.

‘There are logistical problems to manage though in achieving it, so the sooner every care home is asked to start preparing, and given the support it needs to do so, the more likely it is that no one will be disappointed in a few weeks’ time.’

The urgency of the issue was highlighted yesterday by a University of Manchester study which picked up 29,400 excess deaths in care homes during the first wave of the pandemic, 10,000 more than previously estimated.

Medical experts say the lack of visitors caused a sharp deterioration in the physical and mental health of residents, with many simply ‘giving up on life’.

Care bosses said they were delighted with Mr Hancock’s commitment to alter guidelines to allow meaningful visits. The change means all homes will be issued with virus tests for at least one designated ‘key visitor’ of each resident. The Department of Health is likely to issue fresh national guidelines following the 20-site pilot.

There are around 16,000 care homes in the UK, and experts in each home will effectively have to set up a ‘mini-lab’ to oversee the testing of visitors.

Vic Rayner, executive director at the National Care Forum, called for ‘an urgent timetable and adequate funding’.

She added: ‘We are delighted to hear the secretary of state commit to this – it cannot come soon enough for the hundreds of thousands of residents in care homes and their loved ones.

‘However, we need a lot more than words to make this a reality. The implementation of this must start now – the Christmas countdown has well and truly begun.’

The Mail is also calling for an end a postcode lottery that means visiting rules differ, with some councils imposing blanket bans.

We are also calling for care home providers to be granted government support to protect against the risk of being sued over coronavirus deaths.

Ian Hudspeth of the Local Government Association said: ‘Councils and care providers are doing everything they can to ensure visitors can safely see their friends and relatives living in care homes, in line with government guidance.’

Fed-up bosses to run their own testing and visiting schemes 

Frustrated care home managers have begun launching their own testing and visiting schemes to allow desperate family members to see relatives.

Several homes continued face-to-face visits throughout the summer, even allowing relatives to kiss and cuddle – without a single case of coronavirus.

Adam Purnell, of the Kepplegate home in Preesall, Lancashire, said it has been testing relatives for six weeks. He stressed: ‘We couldn’t wait around for the scheme.

Adam Purnell, of the Kepplegate home in Preesall, Lancashire, said it has been testing relatives for six weeks

‘We had a surplus of tests so it made sense to offer them to the residents’ families.

‘The majority of visits are socially distanced, but when residents are coming to the end of life we allow hugging and kissing.’

He said relatives could even move into the home to sleep close to their loved one. 

Donna Pierpoint, of Broomgrove Trust home in Sheffield, said relatives are allowed to kiss and touch residents as long as they wear masks and gloves.

Jayne Carnall, of the Presentation Sisters Care Centre in Matlock, Derbyshire, said it allows face-to-face visits in an indoor lounge. She insisted that homes which only let residents see families through windows or Perspex screens are acting out of ‘fear’ and ‘punishing’ vulnerable people.

The home tests staff weekly for Covid-19.

It banned visits at the start of the outbreak, but quickly recognised restricting contact to video calls ‘wasn’t helping anyone’. Mrs Carnall said the home, run by nuns, resumed visits using an outdoor marquee but later switched to a lounge.

Residents are allowed one weekly visit by up to two family members, seated two metres away.

Relatives wear masks, gloves and aprons – and have their temperatures checked.

Moved to tears: Susanna Reid hails Daily Mail campaign to allow all care home visitors to be tested to reunite with loved ones

Susanna Reid hailed the Daily Mail’s campaign after breaking down in tears over the story of a mother separated from her child.

The Good Morning Britain presenter said she ‘wholeheartedly supported’ this newspaper’s call for all care home visitors to be tested to allow them to reunite with their loved ones.

She added: ‘It is heartbreaking that families can’t have proper visits with either elderly relatives or younger people.’

Susanna Reid hailed the Daily Mail’s campaign after breaking down in tears over the story of a mother separated from her child

Yesterday Miss Reid, 49, struggled to hold back tears on air as she read out the story of a woman who has only seen her autistic son twice since February.

The mother, Suzanne Roberts, said: ‘My son is severely autistic, lives in a care home and is distraught that he can’t see me or come home to visit. He is 26, it’s not just the elderly it affects… [I] have seen him a couple of times since February! It’s heartbreaking.’

Miss Reid held up a copy of yesterday’s Mail’s front page as she was overcome with emotion.

Our story highlighted the devastating plight of parents who have been banned from seeing their disabled children since March.

She said: ‘The front of the Daily Mail this morning shows this isn’t just elderly parents. Parents of vulnerable young people in care are now begging to be reunited with their loved ones before Christmas, how come we haven’t put testing in place?

‘These are literally the most vulnerable people in our society – the elderly and children in care. Why has priority not been placed on these people?’ Teenagers and young adults with special needs who live in care have been unable to cuddle or even touch loved ones since March because of Covid-19 rules.

The youngsters are the hidden victims of a callous policy that campaigners say is killing through loneliness – some have not seen either family or friends since lockdown was first imposed.

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