Wales: Care homes entering a 'pit of despair' amid staff shortages and inadequate PPE

One care home director has warned only a lockdown, more staff or better PPE can prevent disasters in the sector Credit: PA

A care home director has warned care homes and their staff are entering a “pit on the sea of despair” amid the heightening challenges of the Omicron wave of the pandemic

Glyn Williams, the director of Gwyddfor Residential Ltd in Holyhead, has warned that only a lockdown can save the sector in the absence of more staff or better personal protective equipment (PPE).

Mr Williams told ITV Cymru Wales that his home, which cares for 28 elderly residents and provides specialist dementia care, was down to just one member of staff on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. 

“The biggest problem for us, is not so much the actual disease itself, because it appears to be pretty mild, but it's the fact that it's impacting on so many of our staff at the moment,” he said.

“Early on in the pandemic, most of us recognised that staffing was going to be an issue so we rostered two extra on each team to allow for isolations and sickness, and that carried us through the delta wave.

“Omicron is just becoming such a fast builder with the doubling rate it's just taking out so many people at once.” 

Mr Williams said he has asked the local authority and health board for extra staffing resources, to be told that their resources are equally stretched.

“If the staffing levels get critically low, then we got increased chances of falls, and that could end up with very bad outcomes and people ended up in hospital or worse,” he continued.

“At one point, my contingency plan would have been to dial 999 and move all the residents into hospital because that would have been the safest place for them.” 

On Tuesday, Care Forum Wales chief Mario Kreft warned the sector was on a “war footing” as services across Wales reported vast staff shortages due to positive cases and people isolating.

Mr Williams said his home is still waiting for the PCR results of his staff that were carried out on Thursday, December 30, adding to anxiety that there may be staff asymptomatically carrying the virus.

With staffing numbers as low as they are, he added there are fears that some homes may have no option but to allow staff to work while positive with the virus.

“We had one on Anglesey a couple of months ago, where they were basically forced to bring in workers that were infected to look after residents. That's the only alternative they had,” he said. 

“I would say we're probably closer to that being more common now and it happening again than when we were when that happened is that was during the delta wave.”

In the absence of a lockdown like those seen previously during the pandemic, Mr Williams said better PPE could be a potential solution to transmission in homes. 

Care staff currently wear standard surgical masks in homes where aerosol-generating procedures are not present.

“The recommendation at the start of the pandemic was aggressive PPE measures,” he continued.

“I spent 25 years in the forces, and I always had the resources to get the job done and to keep other people safe. 

“It's just not happening here and it hasn't happened since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We could increase the PPE measures, we could increase the level of masks that we're all wearing, from the flimsy FSMS to FFP3, perhaps that would cut down transmission. 

“We're sinking into Dante's pit on the sea of despair. Everybody is just so maxed out with it all at the moment.”

What the Welsh Government is saying

In response to criticism about the level of PPE provided to care homes, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We continue to work very closely with the care sector and its representatives.

"This includes providing guidance, financial support and access to free and regular PPE supplies. Local authorities are in continuous contact with care homes to ensure staffing is maintained at a level to ensure the safety and well-being of residents.

“Ensuring all health and social care workers have the correct PPE is a priority and since the start of the pandemic more than a billion items of PPE have been issued across health and social care.

“In line with UK infection prevention and control guidance, FFP3 masks are supplied to all staff engaged in aerosol-generating procedures and in circumstances where there is a continuing risk of infection transmission despite other protective measures being in place. We will continue to follow this national guidance.”

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