CARE HOMES in West Berkshire are “better prepared” to deal with Covid-19 outbreaks than they were at the beginning of the pandemic.

That’s according to Councillor Graham Bridgman, deputy leader of West Berkshire Council, who says they have the equipment and the experience to protect residents from the deadly virus.

In the first five months of the pandemic, 20 of the 42 care settings in West Berkshire reported outbreaks and the virus claimed the lives of 64 residents.

“I think we’ve all learned a huge amount over the last few months and we are now better prepared,” said Cllr Bridgman, who is also the executive member for adult social care.

READ MORE: Council refuses to apologise for £1 million London Road Industrial Estate blunder

“As time has gone on, we know a lot more about Covid, and PPE (personal protective equipment) is now definitely not an issue.  We have the PPE we need and our staff are also more aware and better prepared.

“Fundamentally, the number of cases in hospitals is considerably less than it was, plus the procedures for hospital discharge take account of Covid so we aren’t getting positive cases discharged into care homes unless processes are in place.”

He added: “It’s not that there are no Covid incidents in cares homes but, when they do occur, they are being dealt with.”

The Conservative councillor also said that, with a very few exceptions, staff are able to access the testing they need, despite recent problems with the NHS Test and Trace system.

Public Health England figures show 12 of the outbreaks recorded in West Berkshire care homes in the first five months of the pandemic happened before the government ordered hospitals to test patients for Covid-19 before transferring them to care homes.

But Cllr Bridgman is refusing to blame the hospitals for these care home outbreaks.

“We all know the country faced a very difficult situation,” he said.

“Acute hospitals needed to ensure they had the beds, the spaces in ICUs (intensive care units), and the ventilators to deal with patients who were very ill, so it’s understandable that they needed to discharge patients from the hospital.

“We are all learning by experience going forward and I’m not going to criticise anyone for what happened.”

READ MORE: Council not concerned about property prices falling despite £63m investment

Together with Cllr Lynne Doherty, leader of West Berkshire Council, Nick Carter, the chief Executive, and senior officers, Cllr Bridgman sits on the council’s Gold committee that receives regular updates on all local aspects of the pandemic, including care home preparations, case numbers, testing and PPE supplies.

“We look at whether there are any cases in care settings and what their position on PPE is,” said Cllr Bridgman.

“We have a RAG rating of red, amber and green to gauge if there are any issues – at the moment, it’s a sea of green so I am confident that care settings know what to do if something happens and are fully equipped to deal with any cases.”

Due to a relatively low infection rate, West Berkshire is currently covered by the medium alert level (Tier 1).

In West Berkshire, two people can visit a resident if they have permission from the care home and adhere to social distancing measures and other advice.

But if case numbers rise and West Berkshire is moved into the high or very high alert levels, then visits will either be significantly curtailed, or stopped altogether.

“We know what we would have to do if we were put into Tier 2 (high alert),” said Cllr Bridgman.

“We hope we won’t find ourselves in that position but we’ve planned for it, so if we do, we’re ready.”