The full extent of Covid-19 deaths in care homes in England is to be revealed by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) next week. Mei-Ling Huang, partner in Royds Withy King’s health and social care team, offers advice to providers of what they need to look out for
On Wednesday (21 July 2021), the CQC will release full data on Covid-related deaths notified to them between 10 April 2020 and 31 March 2021. Ahead of this announcement, care providers and managers should prepare to provide the full picture in a respectful, considered way.
All English care homes who submitted a notification of at least one Covid-related death will be included in the data, and this includes deaths where Covid-19 was a suspected cause. Covid-related deaths that occurred in hospital will be included in the figures for a care home if the person was ordinarily a resident there.
It is important for care providers to make a plan for dealing with this information as soon as possible. Families, residents and staff are likely to be distressed all over again when this story hits the media.
Providers with the most recorded deaths should expect to receive enquiries from the press – and possibly from current residents, commissioners and local politicians as well. When this happens, they should provide as much clarity and transparency as possible.
Providers began receiving emails from CQC on 9 July informing them how many deaths would be included in the data for individual homes, breaking them down by quarter.
As there currently is no way for inaccurate numbers to be challenged, providers wishing to report a discrepancy should put this to CQC in writing. This puts their side of the story on record, should there be any issues regarding an insurance renewal or need to explain the discrepancy in response to external enquiries.
If a care home was a designated setting or subject to any other special circumstances which made it susceptible to naturally higher numbers, providers should explain this and write to those concerned before the data is released on 21 July. This may help prevent mischaracterisations in the media.
Many people will have forgotten how desperate things were in the spring of 2020 and providers may need to remind people of the wider context. At the time, many people were discharged from hospital without being tested. The government advised that it was safe for people to be discharged into care homes.
By the time the wearing of masks was recommended, the whole country was experiencing a PPE shortage. There was no vaccine and little understanding of the disease. Providers will need to remind people of those circumstances diplomatically and explain what they were facing in a way that facilitates understanding but does not come across as an excuse.
Ultimately, transparency is key and will foster trust and a culture of responsibility. Discussions of this information may cause residents, their families and care home staff to experience feelings of grief all over again, and it will be hard, but providers should take this into account when thinking about the tone of the content they are putting out.
Ultimately, transparency is key and will foster trust and a culture of responsibility
Providers should send a letter to residents and families so they can hear this news from the home before it hits the papers and social media. This should be coupled with the offer of a follow up phone call or meeting to provide further information and assurance.
Information for the press, politicians and other stakeholders should be prepared in advance so providers can deal with questions in a considered and measured way. These communications should be the responsibility of the nominated individual or company director.
Providers should also provide their manager with written information in case they receive queries. There are excellent sector specialist public relations consultants available if they need help articulating a response.
Providers should also brief their staff. Not only should staff be pre-warned about what is happening, they should be advised to avoid engaging with queries from the press and others. Questions will be answered but the burden of providing a response should not fall to them.
Management should ensure there are support mechanisms in place should any feelings of grief amongst staff be reignited and be ready to direct employees to necessary resources.
Ahead of 21 July, providers need to engage with residents and families, protect their staff, and ready themselves for media enquiries by drafting a factsheet or press release. It is difficult to deal with a situation like this, but it is always better to prepare than to be taken by surprise.