Covid-positive staff allowed to work in Somerset care homes in 'exceptional cases'

Some care home staff in Somerset have been allowed to work despite being Covid-positive, the county council has revealed.

With some of the highest Covid rates in the country, Somerset County Council said in “exceptional instances” care staff who were asymptomatic and wearing full PPE had gone into work.

In a statement, the council said its policy was that people should self-isolate following a positive Covid test, or if they are showing symptoms, adding that it does not encourage care staff to work while having the virus.

But it went on say that the council was “aware of some exceptional instances where asymptomatic staff wearing full PPE have worked where the risk of a patient not receiving care is greater than the risk of them becoming ill from Covid”.

Cllr John Hart, chair of Team Devon and leader of Devon County Council Credit: Daniel Clark

Councillor John Hart (Conservative, Bickleigh & Wembury), leader of Devon County Council Devon, where Covid rates are also high and continuing to soar, said the statement by Somerset is “not one I would have put out”.

Speaking to the BBC’s Politics South West, he said: “I would urge everybody – if you’re ill, stay home, because I think you should. I think you shouldn’t have the opportunity of spreading it even though it may be less virulent.

“It’s less virulent for some people [but] other people are ill with it, still ill with it, so I think you have to be careful.”

Cllr Hart’s comments come as NHS Devon said over the weekend that the number of people in hospital with the virus in the county is now higher than at any other point of the pandemic.

The figure has risen to 292 and is double the number from a fortnight ago, with a further 37 patients also said to be awaiting test results.

In addition, the health service said 183 care services, such as care homes and other social care providers, currently have Covid outbreaks, making it harder to discharge patients from hospital who need onward care.

It explained that while hospital patients are less seriously ill with Covid than they were before – four were in intensive care – and most had initially gone in for other conditions, the spread was having knock-on effects for other frontline services.

Ian Currie, medical director for Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Under current infection prevention and control guidelines, one patient testing positive for Covid-19 can result in the closure of the whole ward, meaning that beds are unavailable for emergency admissions and for planned operations.

“This means people waiting longer for treatment in the community and operations being cancelled or postponed and long waits in emergency departments for people needing a hospital bed.”

On the rise in cases, Cllr Hart added: “The consolation is that people are not as ill as they were, but it is blocking beds. It is creating a pressure on the hospitals where other activities can’t take place.

“I don’t have an answer. I was hoping that as the summer comes on and the warm weather comes, it will ease back, but I do say to people – please be careful.

“Do test yourself if you’ve got the testing equipment, do wear a mask if you’re going shopping in shops and do make sure, if you get the opportunity of an injection, take it.

“[There is a] fourth [vaccination] coming through for some people, but there are still too many people in Devon and Cornwall and the south west who have not had their first.”

Words by Ollie Heptinstall for the Local Democracy Reporting Service