Havering care bosses say government must ‘get a grip’ as cost of face masks rises by more than 1,300%
- Credit: PA
Face masks, previously £800 a box, now selling for at least £10,800, says Havering care company chief
Two senior members of the Havering Care Association (HCA) – which represents more than 20 care companies in the borough – said firms were relying on emergency deliveries and using PPE, such as gloves and aprons, “hand to mouth”.
They spoke out as newly released figures showed Covid-19 care home deaths in Havering rose from two to 10 in one week.
The HCA’s director John Timbs runs Lodge Group Care, which looks after vulnerable and unwell people in their own homes. Safety rules mean his 100 carers must wear a fresh set of full PPE for every home visit.
He told the Romford Recorder: “A few months ago, I could order 20,000 face masks for £800. Tomorrow, I’m going to have to order 20,000 for £10,800.
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“And that’s the cheapest I could have got a box at the moment. I’ve been quoted three times that price elsewhere.
“The other problem is the NHS don’t have to pay VAT, but we do.”
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Other items, like gloves, aprons and hand sanitiser, now cost roughly 300pc of their usual cost.
“Hand gel that used to cost £20 for a five-litre bottle is now anywhere between £40 and £60,” said HCA chairman Mike Armstrong, who runs two care homes.
“With things like face masks, we are getting down to one or two days’ stock and then you get an emergency delivery and have to start the process again.
“Most providers have got back orders in, but you will ask for X number of face masks and you will only get some of them.
“Some of this equipment, which for years has always been deemed single-use, they are now asking us to make them reusable. I think that suggests how tight and up against it social care is.”
For care homes, said Mr Armstrong, there has been another unexpected cost increase.
“In the early days, the biggest issue most care homes were facing was access to food,” he said.
“Supermarkets were starting to just take food out of our deliveries, so we might order 20 loaves of bread and they would only send three. Then they started cancelling orders and wouldn’t even warn you.
“It was a crazy situation, that government hadn’t prioritised food being distributed for care homes – and to this day, as far I know, care homes still aren’t a priority.
“We had to start using companies that usually serve hotels. So there has been a big increase in the cost of food. Somewhere around 20pc.”
Havering Council, both men agreed, had worked hard to support them.
“I think we are very fortunate,” said Mr Timbs. “They have been proactive. There was a time when we almost ran out of PPE and they got some emergency stock for us. They gave us all an up-front payment to help with the additional costs. They are talking with us on a daily basis about how they can support us.”
“There is a legal and moral duty to support those on the front line,” said Mr Armstrong. “The local authority get it. What we need is the government to get a grip and get the resources out to the boroughs... We need the PPE. We need it now. Our residents need it.
“I think the really important thing is that at the end of this, there is a proper review into what’s gone on at every level, to make sure that in future there are the reserve stocks we require to support us through a pandemic.
“On the ground, access to PPE isn’t good enough. It’s got to improve, because we are asking people to put themselves in harm’s way.”
“I do think they need to get a grip on the PPE situation,” agreed Mr Timbs. “They need to get a strategy in place. The local authorities are probably the best way. And they need to realise the financial pressures on the care sector. They should get rid of the VAT on PPE.”
Figures published by the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday, April 21, showed 826 deaths from Covid-19 inside care homes in England and Wales in the week ending April 10.
In the week ending April 3, 195 deaths in care homes were attributed to Covid-19, meaning the figures - already nearly two weeks out of date – rose by more than 420pc in one week.
Havering recorded two in the week to April 3, but eight in the week to April 10.
FAMILIES CAN VISIT DYING RELATIVES, SAYS CARE HOMES BOSS
Havering care homes are allowing families to see residents who are dying from Covid-19 if they wear protective equipment.
Mike Armstrong, chairman of the Havering Care Association, said he wanted to reassure loved ones that care homes would do everything possible to ensure elderly people did not die alone.
“It’s where we are different to the hospital,” he said. “There are obviously quite strict infection control procedures in place, but we want you to be able to share those last moments together as a family, to say your goodbyes. It’s the last thing we as an industry can do for people and it’s really important to us.”
Visitors will be kitted out with protective equipment, asked to maintain social distancing and will be asked not to leave their loved one’s room.
They will also be taken in and out of the care home via “the least intrusive route” and will have to wash their hands on arrival and exit.
‘HOME TESTING NEEDED FOR CARE STAFF’
Government must make it easier for care home workers to get tested for coronavirus within their own homes, the chairman of Havering’s care association has said.
Mike Armstrong said that although testing had become available to care home staff last week, it needed to be more accessible.
Covid-19 tests are currently available at drive-throughs across London, including in Wembley and Stratford.
But, said Mr Armstrong: “It needs to be ratcheted up. The focus has been on sending people off to different locations. The system has to realise that an awful lot of care staff don’t drive or have access to a car, so it isn’t feasible to go to Wembley or Stratford.
“We have to focus more and more on people being able to get tested in their own home.”
He praised staff, adding: “They have stepped up to the plate and been real heroes at a really stressful, worrying time. They are putting in huge amounts of overtime, giving lots of love and compassion to their residents.”
*If you have information about PPE shortages or other problems affecting the medical or care sectors, call Archant Investigations Unit on 07785 616250.