Update on the pandemic in Devon, track and trace, and my campaign to end all hospital discharges into care homes

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Exeter Nightingale Hospital site. Photo: Midweek Herald

I took part in an NHS webinar on 27 May. The latest situation is that the epidemic is waning in Devon, with about 50 Covid beds in use at the moment, compared to 200 at the peak 6 weeks ago. The Weston closure was due to an outbreak among hospital staff and is not impacting Devon.

In the short term, the Clinical Commissioning Group expect further improvement. Indeed it has been reported that there have been several consecutive days without cases in East Devon. However even a modest opening up over the summer could increase the ‘R’ level and they are planning for a second peak in September or October.

In the worst case for which they are planning, if R rose to 1.2, all 1200 beds available in Devon, including the new Exeter Nightingale hospital, could be occupied. This would mean many hundreds of extra deaths in Devon, far more than we have had so far.

This is the reason why it is essential to do as the Government says, not as it does, and keep up social distancing. ‘Shielding’ people are being asked to isolate at least until 30th June.

Track and trace

Together with some other county councillors, I have been pressing since mid-April for Devon to trial a new track, trace and isolate system. We argued that in view of the relatively low level of infection here, it would be possible to make it work more easily than in most areas.

Finally, we now have the Government’s agreement that Devon can be in the first group of areas for their new system, and I look forward to hearing the details of this. When this is working, we will have greater certainty than any local return of the virus can be eliminated.

Discharges from hospitals into care homes

The greatest national scandal of the last three months is the mass death in care homes. There have been over 70 outbreaks in Devon, about a dozen of which are still ongoing. In our local area, there are likely to have been more deaths in care homes than in the community.

Particularly outrageous was the national policy of discharging hospital patients, including those who had had Covid, into care homes without testing. Since mid-April, the rules have specified testing and also quarantining of Covid patients before discharge, which is a big improvement, but I remain concerned about the whole policy of discharges, since tests can give false negatives, and since the disease can last 7-8 weeks, flaring up after being dormant.

I have therefore continued to press the NHS and DCC to stop all discharges into homes, and set up separate ‘step down care’ for patients who are not ready to go home, e.g. in a community hospital. This should be organised now, rather than see problems return when there is a new peak of infections.

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