'I've decided to go against government guidance': a care home owner's diary

David Romero McGuire reveals the struggle to protect residents in the coronavirus crisis

When David Romero McGuire, who owns a 48-bed care home in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, heard the prime minister criticise the care sector last week for failing to follow coronavirus procedures, it made his blood boil.

In response, McGuire has released extracts from a diary he kept as the Covid-19 pandemic spread through the UK, killing 20,000 care home residents.

McGuire, who is chief executive of the Diagrama Foundation, a charity for vulnerable children and adults, said Boris Johnson had used care homes as scapegoats for his own government’s failings.

The diary extracts reveal the often agonising sense of responsibility and frustration felt by owners of care homes, and the lengths they went to – and are still going to – often in the absence of clear guidance, to protect residents. McGuire’s home has had no cases of coronavirus so far.

Thursday 12 March 2020

I am responsible for the care of more than 90 vulnerable people in the UK. With all the pain in my heart and with no way of knowing whether it was right or wrong, I took the tough decision today to close our elderly care home to non-essential visits (including families) and to any community activities.

Sunday 15 March

My brain has been burning all the time with the thought that any resident might have the virus. I know I need to do everything and beyond to keep everyone healthy but I don’t know where to start. Reactions have been coming back from more families now. Everything from praise and support to not understanding and pressing to come to the home to visit their relatives anyway.

Monday 16 March

The news in Spain reflects a country in an alarming state. Yet in the UK there is still barely a reaction, except instructions to wash our hands. I am closing our head office and everybody will work from home from tomorrow.* The responsibility to make sure all our staff and their families are safe is like a heavy stone.

*It was time well spent. It was another two weeks before we eventually received any official protocols from our own government and local authorities.

Tuesday 17 March

The shopping we need to prepare in advance for the likely shortages is colossal. Supermarkets won’t let staff buy more than small quantities of some goods. They are feeling desperate about this, as am I. We have only one week of supplies left.

Monday 23 March

We have to go to the supermarket pretty much every day. Many of the shelves are empty and it is exhausting going from place to place trying to get what we can. We have to clean every single item, every time, in our small office before we can carry it into the different homes. It is hard work, but completely necessary.

Wednesday 25 March

While we have had no Covid-19 in our services, my colleagues made me realise that the only way now that our residents will get it is by our own staff who are going out and passing it on to them. We could literally kill them. It is a tough realisation to face up to. We have decided to treat all staff coming to work – myself included – as infected (even though none of us have symptoms).

Friday 27 March

Received a letter from the local authority, giving permission for us to shop in bulk at the supermarkets – more than two weeks after panic buying started. I wonder how they thought we were managing to feed people in the meantime????

Thursday 2 April

The government guidance is that no masks will be delivered to us until someone is infected. I’ve decided to go against government guidance, to use masks at all times. But there is a dire shortage of masks. We have not received any from local authorities and the delivery times to buy our own is weeks. What happens if we use all of the masks that we have and then if there is an infection? Too many things to think about.

Monday 6 April

We received some good news today. Essex county council has offered us a Block Bed contract. They need space in the hospitals and want to use our beds at our elderly care home for the overspill.

We will accept the contract with a big BUT: we will not accept any new resident coming from hospital or any other care home without a negative test for Covid-19 first. Needless to say, Essex were not happy, as we were not following the government guidance … again.*

*We were absolutely right to stick to our guns on this as it later emerged residents coming in from hospitals were spreading the virus in care homes.

Wednesday 8 April

I have realised that my mode until now has been that WE WILL NOT LET THE VIRUS IN. But I have not thought for one second what happens if we get a case. We need to plan for the worst.

Friday 10 April

First fallout with the hospital today because we did not want to accept a person into our nursing home without a negative test. We explained our decision. Now I’m just waiting for them to come back and end our contract. I contacted the MP to let him know.

Saturday 11 April

Delivery arrived from our local Clinical Commissioning Group – a box of out-of-date masks and one protective suit (to share among our 27 staff).

Monday 20 April

The MP has replied. He said that he will push for the test but that we should follow public health advice and not block readmission of residents … well … happily I did not follow his advice.

Monday 1 June

A trainer came today from the NHS – to train our staff in the use of PPE [personal protective equipment]!!??? A little too late.

Wednesday 17 June

It is hard to find the words to explain these last few months. I am still scared to death knowing that anything could happen to any of my residents, my staff or my family. So far, we have been lucky. But this can change any time.


Amelia Hill

The GuardianTramp

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