Healthwatch Somerset has today published four reports about care homes in Somerset – three reporting on the quality of care in Somerset care homes prior to Covid-19 from a residents perspective, and a fourth looking at the challenges faced by care home staff during the pandemic.

How to provide quality health and social care for the growing numbers of elderly and vulnerable people in Somerset, and nationally, is a complex challenge and one that has been thrown into sharp focus by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the county’s health and social care champion, Healthwatch Somerset has statutory powers to ‘Enter and View’ publicly funded health and social care premises to speak to residents and patients about their experiences of using the service.  They look at the environment and quality of services, share areas of best practice, identify areas for improvement, and make recommendations based on what people say about the care and support they receive.

In January 2020, Somerset County Council’s care home team asked Healthwatch Somerset, in conjunction with the Care Quality Commission, to carry out quality monitoring visits at three care homes:

  • Oak Lodge Care Home, in Chard
  • Oake Meadows Care Home, Taunton
  • Centenary House Care Home, Shepton Mallet (now closed).

The monitoring reports from these visits were delayed due to Covid-19, but they have now been shared with the Somerset County Council and Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group and published on the Healthwatch Somerset website.

With Healthwatch Somerset’s face-to-face work on pause due to Covid-19 social distancing requirements, including care home Enter and View visits, they are finding new ways to gain feedback and insight into care home provision in the county.

Care homes during Covid-19: care staff perspective

It has been widely reported that social care has faced many challenges and been significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.  People have shared their experiences with Healthwatch Somerset through their ‘Care during Covid-19’ survey which ran from April to September.

Healthwatch Somerset wanted to find out more about the challenges faced by care home staff during the Covid-19 pandemic, and to understand how they have managed during this time.  They held a focused feedback interview with a local care home.  The following broad themes have been identified which will be fed back to those who provide and support care homes in Somerset to inform future planning, care and support.

  • Staff anxiety levels were extremely high during the pandemic – they were worried about the safety of care home residents, while also managing concerns about their own health.
  • There was recognition that hospitals were overwhelmed at the start of the pandemic, so needed to discharge patients back to care homes, but the lack of testing had unforeseen consequences.
  • Testing for the virus is considered essential going forward.
  • Regular communication, support and guidance was important – care home staff felt generally well supported by Somerset’s social care services, local NHS, and their own organisations.
  • PPE had been provided when required by Somerset’s Public Health team or through their own organisation if they were part of a larger care home group.
  • GP care for residents was maintained through established links with local surgeries.
  • There was a great support from the local community, which was welcomed.
  • Most care home residents adapted relatively well with support from care staff and relatives, although some were scared, some found the PPE daunting, and some were disconcerted by the lack of normal visiting arrangements.
  • Some staff were concerned that the reputation of their care home would be damaged if residents caught the virus.

Read care staff comments from the feedback interview: Care homes during Covid-19: care staff perspective.

Healthwatch Somerset Manager, Hannah Gray, said:  “Our Enter and View monitoring visits are a useful tool to support the monitoring of quality within the care settings – they are a great way to highlight areas where good practice and best standards are being practised, and to help drive improvements in the quality of care for residents and patients.  We look forward to resuming these important visits in the future.  In the meantime, we will find other ways to engage with patients, the public and care staff to give them a voice in influencing positive changes in health and social care services in Somerset.”