Measures put in place to protect care home residents from the deadly Covid-19 virus are inadequate, according to an expert from the London School of Economics (LSE).
Adelina Comas-Herrera, an expert in long-term care systems and dementia policy, said deaths in UK care homes were not “inevitable” and that officials could have done more to prevent the spiralling death toll.
It comes as it emerged there were 14 deaths at Glenabbey Manor in Glengormley in recent weeks as Covid-19 swept through the care home.
Operator Runwood Homes expressed its condolences to bereaved families and friends.
Meanwhile, the Commissioner for Older People and the Commissioner for Human Rights in Northern Ireland have said advice provided to the government to protect care home residents here “was not actioned to the extent it should have been”.
In a stinging attack, Eddie Lynch and Les Allamby said officials “should have created a ring of steel to protect care homes” and added that “even now, the government could do more”.
Their concerns were echoed by Ms Comas-Herrera, the co-author of an LSE study comparing measures introduced in different countries to stop the spread of Covid-19 in care homes.
“Things could have been done better (in the UK) and they could have been done earlier. I don’t think that deaths in care homes were inevitable,” she said.
“Hong Kong has had no infections or deaths in care homes at all and that is because they introduced very strict measures very early on.
“When you look at Asia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, they really were ahead.
“They were very, very strict with quarantine and people weren’t discharged into care homes from hospital.
“They had experience of SARS and so they took this virus seriously and they knew how dangerous it would be in care homes, whereas here they seemed to approach this as though it was influenza.
“It has taken quite a long time to recognise the threat and change policy, I can’t say why.”
Ms Comas-Herrera said it was vital that a range of measures were put in place to stop any further loss of life in care homes, including ceasing admissions to care homes where a person is known to have Covid-19 and the development of quarantine centres where people can isolate and be tested to ensure they are not infected before moving into a care home.
She also called for a ban on staff working in multiple care homes and said they should be provided with free accommodation to enable them to isolate while not at work.
Regular double testing of care home staff and residents, and contact tracing to establish the source of an infection outbreak will also prove vital in saving lives, the expert claimed.
She said: “Once Covid-19 is in a care home, it’s very difficult to stop its spread. Given the design of care homes, it’s difficult for most of them to be successful in terms of isolation and that is why quarantine centres are a good idea.
“Anyone moving to a care home can go there first to make sure they don’t have the virus. I think the only safe way to admit a person with Covid-19 to a care home would be by sending in a specialist infection control team to assess the home and provide advice. I’m not sure those resources are available.
“If it isn’t possible to provide all of this support to care homes and you continue to admit people with Covid-19, you are just setting the care homes up to fail.
“Many countries are also increasing pay and improving benefits for care home staff.
“We need to train staff because care home residents aren’t always presenting with a cough and fever — they’re also experiencing delirium and diarrhoea — and it’s important staff recognise these symptoms.”
The Department of Health said a range of measures had been put in place to support care homes, including increased testing of anyone being admitted to a care home, a £6.5m support package and the provision of 1.4m items of PPE.