LIVES were saved during the Covid crisis in Herefordshire because care bosses refused to follow government guidance.

That’s the view of the manager of one of the county’s leading care agencies which, despite the appalling national toll, did not have one single infection among its vulnerable clients.

In the midst of the crisis, with shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) across many parts of the country, the government advised that some equipment – like face masks – could be used for an entire shift.

But Herefordshire Council and local care agencies insisted carers visiting people in their homes had to change masks after each visit to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

“We felt that was the right thing to do,” said Jason Walker, registered manager of the Hereford-based Kemble at Home care agency which supports about 80 clients in their own homes, either with visits or live-in carers.

“We went with stricter PPE guidance on masks, gloves, visors, gowns and I’m sure that kept infection rates down among clients across the county.

“Despite going house to house we didn’t have one single client infected, which we are very proud of.

“Some say we have had a lucky escape, others say it’s good practice. Probably both.”

Mr Walker praised the council for ensuring that carers got the PPE they needed throughout the crisis.

“The council used the money supplied by government to buy PPE for the care agencies and then shared it out."

The Department of Health say the government 'worked tirelessly' to get PPE to frontline staff and that guidance on use of PPE followed World Health Organisation advice and was reviewed by experts.

“Our support has saved lives.”

“We have funded a support package worth £600m, alongside an additional £3.7 billion for councils to address pressures caused by the pandemic."

Financial help was needed because PPE costs had shot up, and are still high.

"We went from zero costs on masks before Covid to £2,000 a week,” sad Mr Walker. The price of a box of 1000 gloves rose from £15 to £50 or £60.

While the pandemic has been a strain on Kemble's business, it’s been a bigger strain on staff, who have faced the anxiety of looking after their vulnerable, mainly elderly, clients and the risk of bringing the virus back into their own homes and families.

What cheered many of them up was the Thursday night clapping and spontaneous acts of support from the public, said Mr Walker.

“Carers have been really grateful for the clapping, it made them feel the public was behind them. We had instances when our staff would find a group of people clapping them as they left a client’s home. I was sad it ended.”

He believes acknowledging their work is vital, and that is why Kemble are major supporters of the Hereford Times Health and Social Care Awards.

“They are a really good thing. It shows that social care is really valued. Having something like this locally builds enthusiasm. Clients get really excited about nominating their carers.

“It’s nice that staff are acknowledged.”

Kemble recruited more staff to help through the pandemic, many often furloughed form other jobs.

They are still recruiting, both to cover for staff who worked through and now need a well-earned break, and to prepare for an expected rise in demand as lockdown eases and families become more confident of calling for help from visiting carers.

Closing date is August 21 and the ceremony – digital this year because of Covid -will take place in October.

Categories are: Health Care Team; Care Hero; Care Home Worker; Domiciliary Worker; Good Nurse; Care Trainer; Child and Adolescent health care; Dementia Carer; Palliative/End of Life care;Mental Health; Care Employer; GP Practice of the Year.