Deaths in Care Homes – CQC to Release Data on all Covid-19 Deaths in English Care Homes on 21 July 2021
The data will be released for all English care homes who have submitted a notification of at least one Covid-related death and includes all deaths where Covid-19 was a suspected cause of death, regardless of the place of death.
If a Covid-related death occurred in hospital, it will be included in the figures for the home where the person was ordinarily resident. This may make it appear that people died at a care home even if they neither acquired nor died of Covid at that location.
On the 9th of July, CQC started sending emails to providers to tell them how many deaths would be included in their data for individual homes. If your home had no Covid-related deaths, CQC will email you to confirm this. If you have reported Covid-related deaths, then CQC will send you a spreadsheet listing all reported deaths by quarter.
It is very difficult to deal with a situation like this but it is always better to be prepared than to be surprised. Families and staff will be distressed by the release of this data. The media will take an interest and will be looking for a good story. Homes with high numbers of deaths should expect to receive enquiries from the press. You will need to plan for all of these eventualities.
When CQC provide you with the information, you should first examine the numbers carefully and compare them with your own data. Do they tally with each other? If not, there doesn’t appear to be any way to question the data’s validity but you should point out any discrepancies to CQC in writing so that there is a record of your position. This may later become an issue, for example, in regard to an insurance renewal or media queries.
Once you have analysed the data, formulate a plan for speaking to people about the release of the information. You will need to plan your communications with various stakeholders:
- People living in the home
- Their families
- Your staff
- The media
- MPs and local councillors
You will need to prepare communications for these people before CQC release the data on the 21st of July. You should:
- Ensure your communications include the correct number of deaths. If your figures do not align with CQC’s, be prepared to explain any differences.
- Explain any special circumstances. For example, if your home was a designated setting, it may naturally have a higher number of deaths than it would otherwise.
- Be prepared to release your own communications before CQC does. Once CQC makes the information available to the press, the press will put their own spin on it. The circumstances are likely to be characterised negatively. You will need to be ready to explain the situation and correct any misinformation before the press come calling.
- Similarly, discuss the situation thoroughly with your managers. Give them a briefing sheet outlining what you intend to say to different stakeholders. If your managers don’t feel comfortable having these conversations, offer them back-up. The communications required are, in most instances, a job for the nominated individual/company director. The person speaking will need to be confident, measured and empathetic.
- Make sure your staff know what is happening. They need to hear it from you before it hits social media. They may face unfair criticism. Call them together, explain what is happening and offer support. You may also want to tell them not to engage with queries from the press and arguments on social media. The data release may re-ignite the grief that they felt at the time so be ready to direct them to any available source of support.
- Prepare a letter to families and offer to speak with them by phone if requested.
- Think carefully about how you will explain what happened. Unfortunately, it is all too easy for people to forget how desperate things were in the spring of 2020. If the deaths in your home occurred towards the early part of the pandemic, remind people of the context and the history. At the time, the Government advised that it was safe for people to be discharged into care homes. Many people were discharged from hospital without being tested. The Government was slow to advise care homes to lock down or recommend the wearing of masks. Subsequently, there was a lack of PPE. There was no vaccine and little understanding of the disease. You will need to explain this carefully and accurately, possibly setting out the relevant circumstances at your own service.
- Remember that care providers must comply with the duty of candour and being transparent in communications naturally fosters trust. None of us can change what happened so it is best to be honest about what occurred and why. All care providers and staff will naturally feel grief about Covid-related deaths and sorrow for those affected. Communicate these feelings in a genuine way. Remember the grief that others will be feeling and take that into account in your communications.
- In your communications, you may also want to discuss what you have learned from the pandemic and the improvements you have made to ensure the home is safe going forward. There is an opportunity to ask relatives and visitors to continue to assist with this by complying with the home’s visiting policy, pre-booking visits and wearing PPE.
- If you need help, get it. There are excellent sector specialist public relations consultants out there. Taking professional advice about crisis management at the outset is usually money well spent. Local and national care associations are also preparing to help out by speaking to the press. If you are approached by the press, your local care association may volunteer to speak with them.
In summary, you need to engage with and prepare for this data release. As with many issues, it is better to meet this on the front foot than to be taken by surprise.
Special thanks to care sector PR specialist Nathan Hollow of PMLR, for generously sharing his insights for the creation of this article