‘Cruel and unseen enemy’: 57 care home deaths recorded in single Suffolk neighbourhood
- Credit: Archant
The tragic death toll from Covid-19 in Suffolk and north Essex care homes has been revealed, with one community bearing the brunt.
Figures published by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) on Wednesday break down fatalities by individual facilities for the first time, with deaths occurring between April 2020 and the end of March 2021.
The picturesque market town of Hadleigh was among the worst-hit neighbourhoods in the entire country for coronavirus deaths during the second wave.
Now it has emerged that 57 of a total 63 Covid-related deaths recorded in the town as of March 31 were reported by four care homes - 20 at Waterfield House, 18 at Hadleigh Nursing Home, 12 at Magdalen House and seven at Canterbury House.
Overall, the CQC data suggests 604 Covid deaths have been recorded in Suffolk’s care homes, with 1,342 fatalities reported in Essex facilities.
In the early stages of the pandemic, this newspaper's investigations team uncovered how Suffolk had recorded a disproportionate number of care home deaths from Covid compared with neighbouring counties.
Social care bosses put this down to the higher number of nursing beds.
Waterfield House in Grays Close, Hadleigh, had the highest Covid death toll in Suffolk with 20 deaths recorded, according to the CQC’s figures.
Silversprings, a large nursing home in Thorrington near Colchester, reported 29 deaths to the CQC - the highest in Essex.
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Bosses at Runwood Homes, which runs Waterfield House rated 'good' by the CQC, said their story is "not unique", with services like theirs "losing people they cared for, all of whom were much loved and valued members of our communities".
"We’d like to assure our residents and their families that we followed all guidance as soon as it became available and had incredibly stringent infection control measures in place," they added.
Meanwhile, Care UK which runs Silversprings said criteria for identifying a Covid-19 death before testing was widely available will vary between care home operators, adding "it is possible we are not comparing like for like".
They thanked teams for "tireless work" adding that they too followed stringent infection control measures.
CQC bosses said they were publishing figures on death notifications it received from individual homes in a bid to be transparent, following earlier requests to share the data.
It warned the number of death notifications alone should not be treated as a reliable indicator of quality or safety in individual homes.
Factors that could influence the number of deaths include rates of local community transmission, care home size and residents’ age and health and care needs, it said.
‘Cruel and unseen enemy’
Prema Fairburn-Dorai, chairwoman of the Suffolk Association of Independent Care Providers, described the pandemic as a “cruel and unseen enemy” and said she was aware this data will bring feelings of loss to the fore again.
She added: “We ask the public to remember the anguish and stress also experienced by the staff and any casualties suffered within staff teams.”
Ms Fairburn-Dorai also criticised “woefully inadequate” early supplies of PPE and claimed homes were forced to accept untested patients.
Around the same time the-then health secretary Matt Hancock claimed the Government had “put a protective ring” around care homes.
On Hadleigh, Ms Fairburn-Dorai said the community was “extremely unfortunate” but added: “It’s hard to pin down why they had so many deaths. In the early stages, there was no testing, anyone who died could have just been registered as a Covid-19 death.
“Residents were also getting Covid in hospital and dying, but in the CQC’s figures, that number still comes back to the care home.”
Frank Minns, mayor of Hadleigh, said the CQC's figures are "grievous and upsetting", but are confirmation of what the town already knew, rather than a further shock.
"I do worry that we may allow plain numbers to obscure the humanity of all the people lost," he said.
"They were individuals who had lived rich and full lives, had children and grandchildren, but in the end needed more support than their families could offer.
"I have spoken to some of the people affected, both the relations of those who were lost and those who looked after them in their final days, and it must have been a truly terrible time.
He added: "They are all anxious to remember these many people not for the manner of their death but for the lives they lived, and we should not let these statistics obscure that."
A memorial garden was recently unveiled in the grounds of Hadleigh Nursing Home to pay tribute to those who died with Covid.
"The Covid pandemic has taken a terrible toll on Hadleigh, especially on its older population living in care homes,” said operations director Debbie McGovern.
“But the team here has emerged from the darkest days stronger and more united. And I am sure the same goes for the town as a whole.”
We intend to publish a full list by provider in the coming days.