Thousands of vulnerable elderly people in care homes remain at risk of contracting coronavirus because bosses have been told nothing regarding the vaccine rollout.
The government began vaccinating in care homes before Christmas, as promised, and wants every resident in the country given the jab this month.
But management teams across the country are still waiting to hear when the doses will arrive and the matter is all the more concerning given the increased transmission of the new variant.
Mike Padgham, chair of the non-profit Independent Care Group, which represents around 200 care providers in North Yorkshire and York, told HuffPost UK that care homes where vaccinations haven’t taken place have been told to wait to be contacted.
He said: “Some have and some haven’t [had vaccines administered already], that’s the problem, it’s been a bit patchy. We’ve had one home in an area of north Yorkshire done, but basically we’ve been told: ‘Don’t contact us, we’ll contact you’.
“A lot of our residents and staff have not yet even got an appointment and they are still waiting to hear. Everyone, teachers, frontline NHS staff, seems to be clamouring for it but they haven’t been given clear instructions. I don’t envy the government but I’m hopeful that care home residents and staff will be early on, though I do understand that everyone deserves to be vaccinated.”
Of the 3,000 beds the group represents, Padgham says a “significant” number of those residents have not been vaccinated.
He said: “The government has said all care homes residents and staff will be vaccinated by the end of this month. It’s good, if it happens, but I’m waiting to see if it can be delivered – it’s an awfully big task – there’s over a million care staff out there and obviously 400,000 people in care homes [in England], so it’s a lot to get through.”
Care home residents are top of the government’s priority list, but when the Pfizer vaccine was approved for use in December, it proved logistically complicated for delivery in care homes because it needs to be kept below -70C.
The newly-approved Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine does not need to be kept so cold and ahead of the rollout this week, health secretary Matt Hancock promised care home residents will be among the first to receive it.
Carol Milnes’s mother Margaret Johnson, 86, is in The Oakes care home in Yorkshire and is yet to be vaccinated. Since the pandemic began, Milnes has been limited to a single 30-minute visit a week.
The facility is run by HC-One Ltd – the UK’s largest care home operator with a bed stock of over 20,000. Despite requests, the provider was unable to supply any data on how many residents or staff have received the vaccine.
Milnes told HuffPost UK: “Last Monday when I went to see mum, the carer told me that they were hoping that within the next couple of weeks they would be administering the first dose. Now of course the second dose has gone from being three weeks later to 12 weeks later so no doubt they’ll still be locked up for another half year.
“Today I was told they are now waiting to hear from the GPs about when the vaccinations can start. I just don’t have any trust in anybody anymore I’m afraid. It’s just a waiting game as it has been for the last 10 months. It’s a farce.”
Ellen Kenny’s 87-year-old mother suffers from severe dementia and was admitted to Newland House Residential Care Home in Oxfordshire care home at the start of the pandemic.
Kenny was asked to sign a consent form approving the use of the vaccine for her mother three weeks ago “which kind of got our hopes up”. But she hasn’t heard anything since.
She added: “I haven’t been given any date at all. Just before Christmas the staff at the care home were just chatting away and saying: ‘We’ve had our first vaccinations, we’re so chuffed about this.’ When I was at the care home on Saturday, I asked the care assistant whether had she heard anything about when they were doing the residents – she had absolutely no clue.
“She went to enquire and said no, nobody knows. So, it just seems to have disappeared, this thing that the residents are supposed to be top priority. It’s not the first government promise that hasn’t been honoured in relation to care homes.
“I know elderly friends in their 80s in Oxfordshire who’ve had their first vaccination. People who live at home, don’t see anybody anyway, they’re not key workers.
“What I personally suspect is that a policy decision has been made, because it’s so much easier, to vaccinate care home residents with the Oxford vaccine.”
Kenny added: “When the government was promising that care home residents would be top priority, it wasn’t in any way conditional on which vaccine it was going to be.”
A request for comment from the care home was not answered.
One HuffPost UK member of staff’s 95-year-old grandfather who lives in a care home in Southend-on-Sea has recently been diagnosed with the virus before the vaccine reached the home. It is understood he contracted it from a chef at the facility.
An NHS spokesperson said: “Following approval of the first vaccine a few weeks ago, the NHS has vaccinated hundreds of thousands of older and vulnerable people across the country, including in care homes.
“The NHS will give GPs an extra £10 for every care home resident they vaccinate against covid by the end of January in a renewed drive to protect the most vulnerable.”