Covid outbreaks are slowing delivery of the vaccine to some care homes in England as GPs postpone jabs in infected facilities. Managers say they have been left as sitting ducks.
Covid outbreaks were recorded in 635 English care homes last week, a slight fall on the previous week, data from Public Health England revealed. But outbreaks are still four times higher than at the start of December. Although the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said on Thursday 63% of care residents in England have received jabs. Covid deaths in care homes in England rose 46% last week to 1,260, the highest level seen since mid-May.
Care home deaths also rose in Wales by 58% last week, according to health regulators. In Scotland, where the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said on Wednesday that more than 90% of care home residents have already been vaccinated, deaths fell last week.
The Guardian has been told of delays to vaccinations in homes with outbreaks in Staffordshire, Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight and Hove. Care home residents and staff were the top priority for the vaccine, but although more than 5m jabs have been administered in the UK, hundreds of thousands of care residents and staff remain unprotected, despite the NHS setting a deadline to vaccinate both groups by Sunday.
Relatives of people in a care home in central Staffordshire who were due to be vaccinated on 10 January said the visit was postponed after several residents tested positive.
“We are being told by staff at the care home that [NHS teams] won’t come in with the outbreak,” said Guy Chatburn, whose parents aged 94 and 99 are in the home and have tested positive for Covid. “It means people are trapped in the building and are not able to get help.”
“You see they are now trying to roll [the vaccine] out to the over 70s and you think, ‘Hang on, care homes are supposed to be the priority.’ Boris Johnson has been talking about the cavalry coming over the hill but it feels like they have seen an X on the door [of the care home] and have ridden off. It’s really bad.”
NHS England told GPs on New Year’s Eve they must do everything they can to press ahead with vaccinations in infected homes, and many are doing so. “Vaccine should be offered to older adults in care homes and their carers, with the aim of achieving high uptake as rapidly as possible,” its guidance states. “This includes when other residents have been diagnosed as having Covid-19 infection.”
If infected people can be “well isolated from the wider population in the care home, then prompt vaccination of unaffected or recovered staff and residents should be planned”.
NHS Stafford and Surrounds CCG said it had vaccinated some staff and residents at the Chatburns’ home on 17 January and was carrying out further risk assessments with a view to vaccinating others on Sunday.
Robin Hall, secretary of the Hampshire Care Association, said that in Portsmouth GPs refused to vaccinate in a care home which had had an outbreak. Hall said the home was now training its own staff to administer the jabs to get around the problem.
After weeks chasing its GP for vaccinations, a Hove care home with a small outbreak has been told the practice was unsure if they could vaccinate when it had a Covid-positive resident. The local NHS told care homes in the area on 29 December that the Pfizer vaccine would be rolled out to larger care homes in days. By this week about 240 care homes had been vaccinated in Sussex, but Arlington House is still waiting and has in the meantime lost one of its 22 residents to Covid.
“My residents have yet to be vaccinated,” said Roxana Steedman, director of Arlington House. “It seems that despite all the noise of care homes being top priority we are having to fight all the way for the vaccines to reach us.” In at least one case, relatives have been agitating to take their loved one out of the care home to be vaccinated at a GP surgery.
The National Care Forum, which represents independent care homes, said it is encouraging members to challenge vaccination teams who refuse to enter infected homes to push forward with vaccination. “The whole drive is to get to these people, residents and staff, and they are the priority,“ said Vic Rayner, executive director.
NHS England referred to its guidance to GPs to carry out vaccinations after a risk assessment.