Coldest winter on record will test care homes’s resilience
Being unprepared for the challenges care home residents face during a long, cold winter can lead to numerous service failures, as well as threatening the existence of facilities themselves.
As an ageing population continues to present more healthcare challenges, this time of year continues to raise increasing concerns as to whether health and care services have the resources to safeguard those who are vulnerable. This year will prove no exception and may even stretch services further than ever before, with Met Office warnings having caused bookies to cut the odds on this proving to be the coldest winter on record.
On current temperatures, spokesman Steven Keates confirms: “It’s going to be colder than what we’ve been used to, obviously, considering it’s been balmy and mild as a whole.
He continues, “It won’t feel particularly pleasant out there. It’s typical cold near-Winter weather with overnight frosts and ice.”
Although this colder than usual start to the winter does not yet amount to a long-range prediction, expecting the worst-case scenario remains a sensible approach. This means being ready for a winter lingering on for as long as last year’s, which saw heavy snowfall in March. There is little doubt this had an impact on mortality rates, which were found to be particularly high in England and Wales at the start of 2018, with 10,000 more deaths than expected recorded by the Office for National Statistics.
So far, research has determined no leading culprit for this alarmingly high figure, as to whether an ageing demographic alone is to blame, a particularly long winter, flu viruses, cuts to public services, a combination of these factors or something else altogether. Regardless, being seen not to fail on these fronts is going to be a priority for all health services moving forward. However, as crucial as safeguarding the well-being of each individual is for care home owners, the fact is that failure to protect the facilities themselves can end up undoing all the good work elsewhere.
Care homes showing any signs of deterioration will be at more risk from the complications of cold weather, with unexpected closures having a harmful knock-on effect with other services. Such a scenario has already been seen this year in Cornwall, which has seen seven care home closures in 2018 because of facilities becoming unsafe. In turn, these closures have led to hospital bed-blocking due to a lack of alternative care accommodations for older people recovering from sickness.
Services in Sheffield are experiencing similar pressures due to a norovirus outbreak, showing that care services have already gone beyond merely bracing themselves for winter now, as they are alreadybeing hit by its complications. According to NHS Wales, such complications will mean 5 to 6 times more patients in hospital every day.
Care home owners need plans in place to avoid such pitfalls, whether related to cold weather, viruses or other causes of failure that are hard to predict. And if such preparation fails to keep any of these misfortunes from the door, then tailored insurance packages are the only real safety net, offering owners the best chance of making speedy repairs, retaining their facility and being back up to full service in as short a time period as possible.
As ever, when the winter frost clears and spring shows its face we will be left with a statistic, and those care homes going into the winter prepared stand a better chance of being on the kinder side of that statistic, rather than becoming another loss to the sector.
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