Residents in long-term care facilities account for up to half of coronavirus-related deaths in Europe, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said there was a “deeply concerning picture” emerging of the impact Covid-19 is having on those in care.
He told a press conference in the UK on Thursday that the way some care facilities operate is “providing pathways” for the virus to spread within the population.
Dr Kluge said: “According to estimates from countries in the European region, up to half of those who have died from Covid-19 were resident in long-term care facilities.
“This is an unimaginable human tragedy.”
Asked how many of Europe’s care home deaths were from the UK, Dr Catherine Smallwood told the briefing the WHO has not yet been provided with the latest up-to-date figures.
The sentiments echoed those shared by the Government’s Chief Medical Officer, professor Chris Whitty, who said he was “sure we will see a high mortality rate sadly in care homes, because this is a very, very vulnerable group”.
Care home bosses have expressed concerns over acquiring personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing, and one told the PA news agency that some types of equipment are up to 24 times more expensive than they were before the pandemic.
Dr Kluge said that PPE should be provided, and testing of any suspected cases in care facilities should be “prioritised”.
He said that staff working in care homes need to start being paid “appropriately”, as they are “often overstretched, underpaid and unprotected”.
Dr Kluge also told the briefing that 50% of the world’s Covid-19 cases – over 1.2 million – have been recorded in Europe and more than 110,000 people have died.
The news comes as the UK government is trying to recruit thousands more people to work in social care as the sector faces ongoing pressures due to the pandemic.
Today we’ve launched the ‘Care for Others Make A Difference’ campaign, celebrating the care workers continuing to support some of the most vulnerable people in our society 👐
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) April 23, 2020
The ‘care for others make a difference’ campaign will encourage care providers to list vacancies on new website www.everydayisdifferent.com.
Job sites including Indeed and Monster have offered to help fill the vacancies.
UK Minister for care, Helen Whately said: “We want to bring together all those thinking they might work in care with social care providers looking for new recruits and to make it as simple as possible for the doors to open up for thousands more compassionate and committed people to work in care.”