A recent Covid-19 outbreak at a Salisbury care home has claimed the lives of four residents, the Journal understands.

Earlier this month, reports emerged of a resident at Willowcroft care home being allowed to spend Christmas Day at his family's home.

According to several members of staff at the home, which is rated as safe and ‘good’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the resident in question later tested positive for Covid.

This then led to an outbreak, the staff members claim.

A coronavirus outbreak has been confirmed, resulting in four deaths recorded as linked to the disease at the Odstock Road home.

The Orders of St John Care Trust, which manages the home, did not deny allowing a resident to leave the home for Christmas.

But it insisted it was “incredibly difficult” to trace where a Covid outbreak starts.

This was supported by Kate Blackburn, director of public health for Wiltshire, who separately said this week it was “almost impossible” to say where individuals pick up the virus from in care homes.

The trust said all procedures were followed, pointing to guidance in place at Christmas specifically asking homes to allow "meaningful visits" to take place.

'It spread like wildfire'

After news of the coronavirus outbreak was first reported on Friday, January 22, a Willowcroft member of staff told the Journal about a resident going home for Christmas and later testing positive for the virus.

The carer, who does not wish to be identified, questioned the decision to allow that to happen.

"You can have visitors come in, obviously we've got screens, visitors have to wear PPE, it's all wiped down so I don't mind that.

"But why allow someone to go out where you don't know what they're doing and you can't monitor them?"

Although it can be difficult to determine the cause of deaths recorded in care homes, the member of staff believes they were due to the Covid outbreak as "that's when people started to die".

Salisbury Journal:

Kate Blackburn, Wiltshire’s director of public health, said cases were detected more in care homes because of greater testing but that it was usually “almost impossible” to exactly determine how the virus gets into a home.

She said this week, when asked about whether or not Christmas mixing contributed to a rise in Covid in care homes: “We did see an increase in the number of infections following the Christmas period, both in staff and in residents, which we could link to that greater mixing of people which obviously will enable the virus to transmit.

“But that also coincided with the time when we saw higher rates of community transmission in the population.”

Before Christmas Willowcroft had been virus-free, the Journal understands, with good infection management preventing any cases of Covid throughout 2020.

A second staff member, who also did not wish to be named, said everyone at Willowcroft did their best to stop the virus from spreading, but once it was in the building "it spread like wildfire".

They said: "Resident, after resident, after resident... it's so sad."

Another source also backed up the two accounts of a care home resident being allowed on a home visit on Christimas Day.

'Stringent measures were observed'

The Orders of St John Care Trust said "misleading statements" have been given to the media about the cause of the outbreak, which is "incredibly difficult" to determine.

The trust’s statement said: "As a county Wiltshire was in Tier 2 before Christmas 2020 and Government guidance clearly stipulated that care home residents should be able to have meaningful visits with family during the festive period.

"This could be in the care home or, subject to risk assessments and negative tests, in the resident’s family member’s home.

"Any resident visiting a family member was immediately tested when they returned and isolated from the rest of the care home for a period of 14 days."

Janet Pannell, the trust's Wiltshire Regional Director, said staff at Willowcroft have been "superb".

She added: "As a Trust we have had stringent infection control measures in place from the first moment that the virus entered the UK and continue to follow all Government guidance on this matter – sometimes going further if we feel that measures do not sufficiently protect residents and our colleagues.

"We are in daily contact with our Public Health colleagues who are reassuring us that we are doing all we can in controlling the spread."

Cllr Simon Jacobs, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care at Wiltshire Council, added: "Our thoughts go out to those who have died, and the families who have lost a loved one, and we are working with the home to support their staff who are doing this important job in very difficult circumstances."

Care home rated ‘good’

Willowcroft was rated as good in all areas – including safety - during the latest inspection of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in November 2020

This CQC report included praise for its handling of Covid-19 risks.

The report said: “People told us staff had increased the cleaning and infection control measures in place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Comments included, ‘Staff always wear the PPE and extra cleaning is happening’ and ‘They are doing everything they can to keep the coronavirus out.’

“A visiting health professional told us, ‘Their Covid procedures were good, and they showed genuine concern for their residents and their needs.’”

The report added: “We were assured that the provider was making sure infection outbreaks can be effectively prevented or managed.”

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