Around twice as many care home residents in Carmarthenshire died in the second wave of the corornavirus pandemic compared to the first, councillors have been told.

During the second wave, 33 homes for older people and 23 homes for people with a learning or mental health disability have had to exclude new admissions due to positive Covid cases.

The county council’s in-house care team has helped several independent homes – and temporarily took over two of them, including Glyn Nest Baptist Home in Newcastle Emlyn. Some of these homes would have closed otherwise.

The details were contained in a report to the council’s social care and health scrutiny committee, which discussed its findings.

Introducing the report, Cllr Jane Tremlet, executive board member for social care and health, paid tribute to staff.

“However many times one says ‘thank you’, it is never enough,” she said. “The pandemic has had a huge emotional and psychological impact on our staff, and the impact should not be under-estimated.”

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The report said advances in testing and the test, trace and protect system had protected staff and care home residents and “undoubtedly” decreased the number of potential deaths. The council also commissioned independent work to evaluate its support of care homes in the first wave, and this was said to have helped its second wave response.

Meanwhile, the rapid vaccine roll-out in recent weeks has significantly reduced the number of care homes forced to exclude new admissions, which in theory should make them more financially viable when empty places are filled. Empty beds are a major issue for the care home sector, especially as it faces ongoing costs of personal protective equipment and extra staffing.

Alex Williams, head of integrated services in the council’s communities department, said it could take a number of years for care homes to build the number of residents back up to pre-Covid levels.

“It is a very real concern,” she said. Mrs Williams said Welsh Government funding was making up the shortfall at present. She added: “We don’t know at this stage how long that funding is going to be in place.”

Cllr Tremlett said she was confident that care home places would start being filled again.

“My glass is half full,” she said.

Mrs Williams said the council was “actively looking at” a new system of step-up and step-down beds. These would help elderly people who were medically fit for discharge from hospital but still waiting for a care home bed, and also those who were on the cusp of being admitted to a ward.

Committee members asked about the impacts of the pandemic on staff, and when day services and respite care would resume to something like pre-Covid levels.

The report said the majority of day services had been forced to remain closed, along with most planned respite in care homes, although some alternative support had been explored.

Mrs Williams said the council was following national guidance on this issue, and that any relaxation in social distancing would have a very beneficial impact.

“It’s definitely the intention to re-open, but it’s about how we can do that safely,” she said. On the mental health of the workforce, she said: “We do recognise that’s a significant issue.” She said counselling, one-to-one sessions and more regular contact with staff were in place

Asked by Cllr Kim Broom about respite care, Mrs Williams said there had been very little take-up of the limited respite offer in care homes because the person being looked after would need to be isolated in that home.

She said emergency respite had been arranged, and also some respite in people’s own homes. On this latter service, she said: “It’s not ideal because people often want that clear break from each other.”

Cllr Emlyn Schiavone said he was concerned also about the pandemic’s impact on younger people.

“I’m worried about a further breakdown in society in five or 10 years’ time,” he said.

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