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Two-thirds of residents die in Covid outbreak at Lincolnshire care home

Sarah Marsh and Robert Booth
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

A care home in Lincolnshire has been left devastated after Covid killed two-thirds of its residents with two staff treated in hospital in an outbreak the manager described as “horrendous”.

Eighteen of 27 residents at The Old Hall at Halton Holegate, near Spilsby, died in the run-up to Christmas, the care home’s manager, Diane Vale, told the Guardian. Most of those who died were in their 90s – the youngest was 79 and the oldest 99.

Some of the deaths were so sudden staff did not have the chance to administer end-of-life treatment or arrange for loved ones to say goodbye.

It is the most devastating outbreak in a care home in England to have emerged in the second wave of the pandemic, as the new, more transmissible, variant of the virus spreads and GPs race to vaccinate all residents by the end of this week.

Covid outbreaks in England’s care homes almost tripled in the three weeks to 10 January, according to data from Public Health England. This month, the Guardian revealed that 13 of 27 residents had died from Covid at Edendale Lodge care home in Crowhurst, East Sussex, since 13 December.

“The outbreak started on 16 November and lasted around six weeks,” Vale said. “All 27 residents tested positive at the same time, as well as 20 out of 28 staff. It was awful, we lost 18 residents altogether. I have been a manager for 40 years and have never had to deal with anything like it – it was horrendous.”

Two members of staff were so ill they were taken to hospital with one still off sick. The home’s infection control procedures were validated as safe by regulators at the end of November. Core staff had moved in to reduce the risk of infection spreading.

The home is in East Lindsey, the district of Lincolnshire that recorded one of the highest weekly number of Covid care homes deaths in England last month. Fifty-two people died from Covid in the district’s care homes in the five weeks to 3 January, second only to the number of care home deaths, 71, in East Riding.

Across the UK, 23,916 people had died from confirmed or suspected Covid in care homes by 1 January 2021 – 31% of all deaths from the virus.

The first death from Covid at The Old Hall was on 18 November, two days after the residents were all tested for Covid.

“Originally there were no symptoms and the symptoms they tell you to look for, such as a continuous cough or high temperature, there was no indication of that,” Vale said.

The manager said panic went through her mind as she had been able to keep coronavirus out of her care home during the first wave of the virus.

“You get used to losing residents. That is the nature of a care home and the life expectancy when you are in a care home is two years. You expect to lose residents periodically but not that quickly and in that number. The effects on staff emotionally and mentally are horrendous,” she said.

Vale said staff spent a lot of time crying and they moved into a caravan nearby to be around to help.

“For a lot of residents, we did not have time to bring them to the hospital because they were not poorly for long enough,” she said. “We were talking to doctors on a daily basis but with a lot of them there were no signs they were going to die. We had one lady who had a full bowl of porridge in the morning, and ate her lunch and she died the next day. Some of the deaths were even quicker than that.”

Vale said a lot of residents did not get to say goodbye to loved ones or receive the normal end-of-life care. “Some did pass on their own because there was no suggestion anything was going to happen. We went in to do checks and they had gone,” she added.

Vale is proud of her staff, who found the experience very hard. “It was the staff that got me through it and my deputy, Andrea, I would not have been able to do it without her … The staff were amazing.”

She added: “People who think Covid is a hoax want to come to a care home or hospital. They are on their knees.”