Families may not be able to visit their loved ones in care homes this Christmas as bosses fear they could be forced out of business if sued over a covid-19 outbreak.
Inadequate insurance offered to care homes means that for hundreds of businesses allowing families to cuddle their relatives is not only a health risk but a financial liability.
Despite the news of a vaccine, which gave hope to millions across the UK yesterday, many care homes say they will refuse to allow visits unless they get more protection against Covid-related insurance claims.
Care Forum Wales, which represents nearly 500 providers, warned that many UK care homes may choose to bar outsiders until Covid-19 is no longer a threat, rather than risk being taken to court by bereaved relatives.
Bob Underhill, 84, and his wife Patricia, 82, suffering from Alzheimer’s, kiss at last after weeks of lockdown, December 2, at Chiswick Nursing Centre, west London
Care Forum Wales chairman Mario Kreft said it is ‘vital’ that care homes are given indemnity from being sued over outbreaks, as is the case with the NHS.
He warned a lack of proper insurance cover could see some homes technically break the law by staying open.
Mr Kreft said: ‘It could make them liable to massive and ruinous damages claims if the courts rule against them.
‘Some may well opt to shut down and mothball their services rather than risk being put out of business by catastrophically high legal costs.’
He said the UK and devolved governments must grant indemnity to social care providers for Covid-related damages.
Resident Theresa Snelling hugs her daughter Serena as they are allowed to visit with physical contact for the first time at The Chiswick Nursing Centre, December 2
The moment 90-year-old Audrey rose from her chair to embrace her daughter Shelly at Kepplegate Care Home in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, today
Mr Kreft added: ‘The NHS was given indemnity when the pandemic struck, so it is only right and proper that social care is given the same protection as a matter of urgency.
‘Our care homes and domiciliary care organisations are on the front line just like the NHS.’
Providers say they’ve been hung out to dry because insurance companies introduced new clauses in April which excluded care homes and domiciliary care companies.
The fear is that care homes may be sued if a visitor were to bring in Covid-19, resulting in an outbreak which cost lives.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: ‘Throughout the pandemic care home companies have been warning that without an indemnity from the Government, like that which they have already given to the NHS, it will be too risky for them to allow indoor visiting for as long as COVID-19 remains a threat.
‘The Government has recently pledged that everyone will be able to visit a loved one in a care home by Christmas, but without an indemnity being granted to care homes it’s hard to see how that promise can possibly be met.
‘Many older people in care homes and their families are desperate to be reunited after an achingly long time so we hope the Government will act quickly and give care homes the financial back-up they say they need to allow visiting to start up again everywhere.’
Sanjiv Joshi, managing director of the Caron Group, which manages 14 care homes across South and Mid Wales, said visitors would be ‘an uninsured risk’.
Bob after meeting with his wife Patricia, who has been unable to have physical contact with her husband due to Covid restrictions, at The Chiswick Nursing Centre, today
The reunion was able to happen after new 30-minute coronavirus tests
Even if care homes were allowed to continue operating, a Covid-related insurance claim ‘could mean curtains’ for the owners.
Mr Joshi said: ‘We can understand an insurer excluding Covid because it’s such a large risk and unquantifiable.
‘They can’t be signing blank cheques, so this is where government needs to step in.’
He added: ‘The one thing that causes care home bosses sleepless nights’ is the unreliability of Covid testing.’
Officially patients can be discharged from hospital based on one negative result, but many care homes are insisting on two negatives to be on the safe side.
Care homes lacking Covid cover could be said to be breaching their contractual requirements and be closed down by councils.
It’s estimated that two thirds of care homes which renewed their policies since the start of the pandemic are now not covered for any claims arising from coronavirus.
At the same time insurance premiums have rocketed – some have more than doubled.
Glyn Williams, who runs Gwyddfor Care Home in Bodedern, Anglesey, with wife Mary, said: ‘Our premiums this year have gone up by between 50 and 70 per cent, so we’re paying a lot more for a lot less.
‘It’s being brought into sharp focus because Christmas is fast-approaching.
‘Families will naturally want to visit their loved ones but providers won’t want to open their doors if they haven’t got insurance and adequate testing.’