On Wednesday 21 July, the CQC published data regarding the number of Covid-19 related deaths at each care home in England. There has been much debate about whether the decision to release the data was right, but now that the decision has been made and the data released, how should providers respond?
In advance of publication, the CQC shared the relevant figures with each of the homes concerned. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are a significant number of errors within the data, perhaps affecting as many as 20% of the homes concerned. Providers should ensure that urgent action is taken if there is any false or misleading information published in whatever form and by whatever organisation; this could involve addressing comments directly to the CQC seeking corrections/clarifications, or to any secondary publishers of the information.
The CQC may use the data as a basis for carrying out inspections or may give particular attention to organisations with high death rates. Care home providers should be prepared for questions but, more importantly, have clear, comprehensive information prepared to share regarding homes that have been particularly affected by the pandemic. In particular, where it is possible to demonstrate that unfair pressure was placed on homes to accept untested residents from the NHS, it would be sensible to have the relevant documentation readily available to show this. It is possible that it will be the local press that takes the most interest in the data and preparing and collating the relevant information now will help to deflect any criticisms raised.
Context is everything – a high death rate does not necessarily mean that a provider did not comply with the relevant guidance, processes, or procedures, but there may be a perception from the public that it does. There are many factors that may have contributed to outbreaks and individual deaths including; the size of a home, the number of admissions and the type of care provided (for example, whether the home operated a discharge to assess service). It is also likely to be misleading to consider the figures in isolation without taking into account the infection rate in the local area, particular PPE shortages and whether local hospitals were also badly affected.
Providers should consider the effect of the release of this data on staff morale, as high death figures may create a perception that staff did something wrong. There is a need to ensure that staff know who they can speak to if the release of these figures or any criticisms raised is worrying or upsetting them and this moment, in particular, may be a good one to thank staff for their hard work.
The release of the data may also be worrying for residents and their families, particularly in the context of a potential third wave; providers should consider whether there is a need to release communications regarding the measures that have been and are being taken to keep residents and visitors safe.
Any communication regarding the figures will need to be carefully judged, to ensure that a consistent and well-balanced message is given to all concerned. Given the likely interest from the local press, it would be sensible to ensure that a communications strategy is in place, with a clear understanding of who is authorised to comment and what they are going to say.