Croydon is among the London boroughs worst hit by coronavirus according to the latest government figures this weekend.
And yet the pandemic death toll in this part of south London could be far worse once the fatalities are counted up from around the borough’s 140 care homes.
A senior Labour councillor has described the situation in the borough’s care homes as “a ticking time bomb” that has been allowed to get out of control due to a lack of government testing and proper provision of PPE – personal protective equipment – for care workers.
According to figures published today, 1,140 cases of covid-19 have occurred in Croydon.
The inadequate levels of testing for covid-19 and the poor provision of PPE were discussed at a Town Hall scrutiny meeting last month, before the government got round to imposing a pandemic lockdown.
And council officials told councillors that it was not the responsibility of the local authority to monitor the number of covid-19 deaths occurring outside hospitals. So far, the figures provided at daily government briefings have tended to be those occurring in hospitals, where the cause of death has been verified as the virus.
The next update from the Office of National Statistics on covid-19 deaths outside hospitals is expected on Tuesday this week.
Croydon has the greatest number of care homes of any borough in London, with an estimated 3,000 residents.
Jane Avis, the council cabinet member responsible, told the scrutiny committee last month that the council was doing “everything in its power” to provide support for care homes – many of them privately run – including financial help, infection control training and protective equipment. Nonetheless, even a fortnight ago the council issued an emergency appeal for more PPE earlier this month.
“The full picture is not verifiable at local level because of a lack of government testing,” Avis admitted.
“The council welcomes the government’s commitment to focus much more on widening availability of covid-19 testing and PPE for the care sector, but it remains unclear what this means in practice for local authorities.
“I urge ministers to assist care homes to source essential PPE supplies and to begin widespread testing as soon as possible to give greater protection to care home residents and staff in our borough.
“If this nationwide pandemic stretches into months rather than weeks, it is equally vital that ministers give longer-term assurances so care homes also have the right funding and PPE, not just for the short and medium-term.”
And Sean Fitzsimons, the scrutiny committee chair, said, “My concern has been that we had a ticking time bomb – there has been a lack of PPE and testing, which means that residents who are very vulnerable are at risk.
“I have to say the council was aware of an issue here and I am surprised it has taken the government so long to start talking about care homes. It seems to me that we’ve let it get out of control.”
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