During the pandemic when care homes were struggling to get GPs and ambulances “to come to their assistance,” it has been reported the Home Office were enforcing one immigration raid, on average, every three months in the 21 months to September 2021.
Data obtained via freedom of information (FOI) laws and seen by the Independent show there was at least one raid in January 2021 when there was a national lockdown in place.
Out of the seven raids carried out in care homes during this period, six led to arrests being made and between one and five led to the arrested individual being detained.
The Care Worker Charity’s (CWC) and Care England say the immigration raids which took place in care homes during the pandemic by the Home Office caused “another unnecessary stress” to care providers, as well as placing "vulnerable individuals’ health" at risk.
Ms Gerlich chief executive of CWC said the Home Office carrying out immigration raids during the pandemic “acted out of proportion during a time where care homes really struggled with Covid.
“This was at a time when family visits were limited or not allowed but raids were happening. The raids were very out of touch and context of the situation and added unnecessary stress and potentially could have brought the virus into care homes which is very irresponsible and insensitive to the situation.”
Care England said it is “ironic” that these raids took place during lockdown when some members were, and still are, “desperate for GPs, ambulances and other healthcare professionals to come to their assistance but they wouldn’t step over the threshold”.
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England said: “Our members strive to provide the highest quality care for those in their care and is it any wonder there is a recruitment and retention difficulty with the constant denigration of the workforce. The care workforce is our best resource and needs to be appreciated as such.
“Members are careful to go through the proper recruitment channels and we have called upon the government consistently to utilise some of the workforce solutions that we have presented.”
’The Home Office saw fit to barge into these homes and arrest carers’
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which obtained the figures said care homes are places where elderly people were barred from seeing or hugging loved ones for months on end, and many still have stringent contact rules in place. But apparently the Home Office saw fit to “barge into these homes and arrest carers looking after vulnerable people.”
Mary Atkinson, campaigns officer for JCWI said the figures reveal a “government willing to pursue its hostile environment at all costs, instead of prioritising the public’s care and wellbeing.”
In a statement given by the Home Office, it states its immigration officers give due consideration to establishing contact with the care home providers and work with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and local authorities before undertaking raids.
Isolation rules have now changed for care homes in England so they only have to close to new residents and visitors for 14 days after a Covid outbreak, which is defined as two or more cases.
Formerly, care homes had to shut their doors to new residents and visitors for a full 28 days after one case of Covid.
The change has been made to help ease the pressure in hospitals where there are thousands of patients who are fit to be discharged, but are still stuck there due to a shortage of care home beds, as well as to stop residents being isolated from their family and friends.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Throughout the pandemic we have done everything we can to protect those receiving care with the measures in place based on the latest scientific and expert advice.
“A change has been made to outbreak restrictions reducing the period from 28 to 14 days in line with this advice.”
He added: “We keep these measures under constant review to ensure we continue to protect the lives, health and wellbeing of residents and fully recognise the impact of isolation and the importance of companionship on physical and mental wellbeing.”
Martin Green, chief executive of Care England welcomed the change in policy, saying: “As the largest and most diverse representative body for independent providers of adult social care, Care England is glad that the government has listened to us and amended the parameters for classifying a Covid outbreak within a care home.
“The Omicron virus is affecting over a third of care homes, but there are encouraging signs from the data that the impact of this new variant is not as severe as in the previous waves of the pandemic.
"Staffing remains the most critical issue for social care and Care England will continue to push for a very swift response to changing guidance when it is appropriate, and when the data leads us in that direction.”
The number of COVID-19 related deaths in care homes in England and Wales rose for the first time in two months in the week before Christmas, the latest ONS data has revealed.
After having declined for seven consecutive weeks, the number of COVID deaths rose to 44 in the week ending 24 December from 42 in the week earlier.
Despite the slight increase deaths remain far below the peak weekly levels of almost 2,000 seen in January 2021.
COVID-19 deaths accounted for 1.6% of all deaths in care homes, the same rate seen in the week earlier.
CQC notifications of deaths in care homes involving COVID-19 in England rose by 59% in the week ending 31 December to 65 from 41 in the week earlier.
The slight increase in deaths came amidst a surge of the new Omicron variant across the country.
Infection levels in England have soared to record levels in recent weeks with 148,725 new cases reported on 4 January.
There were 25 COVID-19 related deaths in England on 4 January against a seven-day average of 116.
The Independent Care Group (ICG) and Care Forum Wales are urging their respective governments to set up an “army of volunteers” to tackle a shortage of care staff fuelled by rising cases of Omicron.
According to internal health system staffing data seen by the Guardian, there are over 11,000 care home workers off for Covid reasons and almost 10 per cent of staff are currently off work in England with three per cent due to Covid.
The (ICG) chair, Mike Padgham, has written to the health secretary for a second time, urging him to set up an emergency arms of volunteers to step in and help care providers who are chronically short of staff.
The ICG warns that the sector is already on its “knees” because of the “upheaval of Brexit”, the mandatory vaccine policy brought in earlier this year and now the escalating cases of Covid-19.
Mr Padgham said: “Every day we are hearing from the operators of nursing and care homes and from homecare providers who cannot operate properly because they are so short of staff.
“We need help before we have to start rationing care,” warns Mr Padgham. “Care providers cannot go on as they are or the amount and the standard of care are going to be under threat and compromised.
“The idea of a volunteer army for care – similar to that being set up to support the NHS – is a serious one and one that must be implemented immediately, before it is too late.”
Vic Rayner, chief executive of the National Care Forum has also warned that the spread of Omicron across the country will bring more care homes into "outbreak" putting "huge pressure" on "already compromised staff" meaning "those who need care do not get it.”
'We’re on a war footing'
Mario Kreft, chair of Care Forum Wales, says the sector is facing its worst ever crisis with reports that 75 per cent of staff were off work in some care homes, either because they had contracted coronavirus, or they were self-isolating and as a last resort, homes were introducing “firebreaks” to temporarily restrict visiting.
He also fears reinforcements might not be available because statutory organisations like local health boards and councils were also short of staff.
Mr Kreft said: “We’re on a war footing. I think we’ll see visiting restricted for a period of days or a week or so because there will not be the staff.
“Nobody understands the importance of care home visiting better than those that run and work in care homes. It’s essential to people’s wellbeing and we’ve had decades of open house visiting without any appointments.”
Mr Kreft said safe visiting also requires staffing input which makes it even more difficult if you are short of staff and don’t have the capacity to ensure safe visiting.
“I think what we’ll see is firebreaks or temporary pauses in terms of visiting individual care homes but the responsibility is with the registered manager and the organisation running each care setting.
“All the registered providers have legal responsibilities towards their residents and they also have responsibility for the health and safety of their own staff.
“The other added complication is that care homes are now unable to secure insurance against Covid-related claims so they really cannot afford to take any risks.”
Mr Kreft said Care Forum Wales has been working with the Welsh government, health boards and local government.
A spokesperson for the Welsh government said: “We have taken early and decisive action to keep Wales safe in light of the spread of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.
“We continue to work very closely with the care sector and its representatives. This includes providing guidance, financial support and access to PPE supplies. "Local authorities are in continuous contact with care homes to ensure staffing is maintained at a level to ensure the safety and well-being of residents.
"Whilst we appreciate the considerable pressures care homes are facing, blanket bans on care home visits are not appropriate. Visits should be supported in line with our visiting guidance.
"If a care home is dealing with a Covid-19 outbreak, visits by the 'essential visitor' should still be supported in line with the guidance and the care home’s risk assessment.”
To read the latest care home visiting guidance for England, Wales and Scotland, click here
click here for more details or to contact Saint Cecilia's Care Group
A surge in COVID-19 outbreaks in care homes has been reported in Northern Ireland with at least 120 services reporting cases, according to the HSC Public Health Agency.
The Western Health and Social Care Trust has suspended visits to its care homes and hospitals with some private care homes also restricting visits.
Dr Gillian Armstrong of the PHA told BBC Radio Foyle: “We are getting a huge amount of calls and inquiries related to cases linked to that and also staffing shortages as well.”
Dr Armstrong said the Omicron variant was spreading “very fast” in Northern Ireland as with the rest of the UK.
“We’re seeing a very high number of cases – the highest that we’ve ever seen – and Omicron has become dominant,” Dr Armstrong said.
“We will expect that to continue to go up over the next number of weeks just with the sheer numbers of cases in the community.”
Dr Armstrong said it was up to individual private care homes to make their own assessments regarding visiting.
“People need to see their loved ones as well but, at the moment, there is an unprecedented level of community transmission,” she said.
“Each care home will make their own risk assessment according to the vulnerability of their patients and what their staffing levels are like as well.”
The government has made care workers eligible for the Health and Care Visa and placed them on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) for a 12-month period.
The move follows a recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) earlier this month.
Inclusion on the SOL will stipulate an annual salary minimum of £20,480 for carers to qualify for the Health and Care Visa.
The temporary measures are expected to come into effect early next year and will be in place for a minimum of 12 months, providing a much-needed staffing boost while the sector deals with the additional pressures of the pandemic, at which point they will be reviewed.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid (pictured) said: “It is vital we continue to do all we can to protect the social care sector during the pandemic and beyond.
“These measures, together with the series of support packages announced since September, will help us ensure short-term sustainability and success for our long-term vision to build social care back better.
“I also urge all care staff yet to do so to come forward to Get Boosted Now to protect themselves and those they care for.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel MP said: “The care sector is experiencing unprecedented challenges prompted by the pandemic and the changes we’ve made to the Health and Care Visa will bolster the workforce and helping alleviate some of the pressures currently being experienced.
“This is our New Plan for Immigration in action, delivering our commitment to support the NHS and the wider health and care sector by making it easier for health professionals to live and work in the UK.”
The move follows an investment of £465.2 million in supporting recruitment and retention of social care staff through the challenging winter period.
Research highlights challenges faced by social care workers during COVID first wave
New research from Keele University has highlighted the key challenges that workers in the social care sector faced during the first wave of Covid-19.
Social care workers shared concerns that early responses to the pandemic, driven by short-term solutions, did not meet the needs of service users, and also expressed concern about the long-term impact of such changes.
The research, led by Dr Tom Kingstone, with Professors Lisa Dikomitis and Christian Mallen, from Keele University’s School of Medicine, found stories of resilience and rapid adaptation among social care workers. However, there was a deep concern about how new ways of working would impact on service users, particularly the most vulnerable, and what the social work profession would look like post-pandemic. Read more
MPs ignore public consultation and vote for compulsory vaccinations for care home staff
MPs have approved regulations for all care home staff in England to be vaccinated against Covid, despite the government holding a public consultation which found 57 per cent did not support mandatory vaccination.
The government carried out a public consultation earlier this year. Eleven per cent of responses were from care providers, with 28 per cent from care home staff, 23 per cent from the general public and 23 per cent from care service users and their friends and family.
Forty-one per cent were supportive of compulsory vaccination and 57 per cent did not support the proposal. Two per cent were neither supportive or unsupportive. Read more