Lancashire County Council trolled for providing Covid PPE to private care homes
The politician in charge of adult care services at Lancashire County Council received “a torrent” of online abuse after the authority supplied personal protective equipment (PPE) to private care homes at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Graham Gooch told a meeting of the Lancashire health and wellbeing board that the comments came when details emerged of the county-wide effort to secure sufficient PPE for the broader social care sector.
As the nation struggled to source supplies back in early spring – and with the outbreak nearing its peak – the body set up to lead the county’s response to Covid-19 placed a multi-million pound order with producers in the Far East for vital items including masks, gloves and aprons.
The Lancashire Resilience Forum (LRF) committed the cash to purchase the kit – with the lion’s share coming from the county council, along with contributions from the authorities in Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen.
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The scarcity of supplies at the time meant that there were no guarantees Lancashire’s order would be fulfilled, but when huge consignments started to arrive in late April and early May, they were distributed to the settings in greatest need – many of which were nursing and residential care homes.
It was then that County Cllr Gooch started to receive messages via what he described as “unsocial media” from supporters of opposition political parties.
One said that the move was an example of “a Tory-run council looking after their rich mates who own these care homes”, while another demanded a refund on their council tax bill.
“Council is one thing, private is another – I’m not paying for some pond life, greedy home-owner. How have you even got the nerve?” the sender thundered.
However, County Cllr Gooch told the meeting that he would make the same decisions again.
“We were concerned about the safety of the residents and the staff who look after them – regardless of the status of the home. It’s disappointing that anybody would want to politicise the issue and is willing to put people’s lives at risk.
“[Lancashire has] very few homes owned by big companies – the majority are small family-run homes, who are struggling at the moment. They are not rich and not greedy,” he said.
County Hall runs just 16 of the 425 care homes in its area, with the rest in private hands.
The deputy leader of the Labour opposition group, John Fillis, condemned the caustic critics.
“In a pandemic, it doesn’t matter whether you’re private, local authority, NHS or whatever. We’re taking care of the people of Lancashire and you don’t distinguish between different categories of provider at a time like this.
“The county did the right thing buying PPE in bulk, because we had the power to do that,” County Cllr Fillis said.
The meeting also heard that there had been a huge reduction in instances of Covid-19 in care homes across the county. As of 21st July, there were eight outbreaks – defined as two or more cases in a setting – and 10 single incidents of coronavirus in care facilities within the county council area.
At its peak, there were around 200 outbreaks and incidents in the care sector in Lancashire.
However, executive director for adult services and health and wellbeing, Louise Taylor, warned that care homes were “not out of the woods” – and that it would be wrong to assume that the virus could not re-emerge there.
Across the whole of Lancashire, including the standalone council areas in Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen, 46 percent of care homes have experienced at least one outbreak within their walls – and 302 care home residents had died with Covid-19 up until 24th July.
Ms. Taylor also told board members that families who had asked for care services delivered in their relatives’ own homes to be stopped during the pandemic – for fear of their loved ones contracting Covid – were now probably “fairly exhausted” after taking on those caring responsibilities themselves.
“We have been actively supporting carers in the best way we can – part of that is now being able to [reinstate] some services that they have previously relied on, such as day care and respite, where it’s safe and suitable to do so,” she said.