STEPS Rehabilitation has told NR Times of its struggle to have a client tested for the deadly disease – which transpired to be positive – before they were released back to the facility.

The resident was admitted to hospital with symptoms of the deadly virus last month.

The hospital wanted to discharge him back to the centre, in Sheffield, less than 24 hours after admission on the basis that it was not in the client’s best interest to stay in hospital.

However, STEPS – a residential and day neuro-rehab facility – has told of its struggle to secure a COVID-19 test for the resident, despite the obvious risks presented to other clients and staff if they went undiagnosed.

Having met with significant resistance from the hospital, STEPS eventually managed to have the client tested and it was established they did have COVID-19, meaning an area of the centre had to be cleared to enable the resident to be put into isolation.

Once STEPS established its resident did have COVID-19, only staff wearing appropriate PPE were able to deal with them.

One of its conditions to the hospital on accepting the client back into STEPS was that they were sent back with the appropriate PPE to care for them, as the centre revealed its struggle to source the correct PPE.

Prior to this, the centre has struggled to source adequate levels of PPE for the protection of staff and clients, turning to decorating overalls to replace medical-issue kit. 

The Government has repeatedly been accused of failing to support residential care facilities during the pandemic, through lack of testing and PPE.

The policy of releasing people from hospital into residential facilities without testing has been widely criticised on a national basis, with many pointing to this as a factor in the further spread of COVID-19 within the care environment.

Jules Leahy, business development director of STEPS Rehabilitation, said: “Although we were really keen for this client to come back to us, and the family was pushing for that to happen, we would not have them back until they were tested.

“We were immoveable on that. We are not a nursing home nor a hospital, but the spread of COVID-19 could have widespread serious, potentially fatal, consequences here. 

“We have other clients to protect and our staff but the hospital were reluctant to carry out the test. For some of our clients, particularly those with complex injuries, they would have a survival chance of less than 50 per cent if they contracted COVID-19, so we could not compromise on this.

“When they did finally agree to a test, it came back positive for COVID-19 which meant reorganising the building to create an isolated area.,We moved all our other clients away from this zone, and ensured only staff wearing the appropriate PPE could have access.”

In common with other medical and care facilities, accessing appropriate PPE presented further challenges for STEPS, with the team turning to alternative solutions to ensure the safety of staff and clients.

“It has been really challenging. We were initially only offered 300 surgical masks by Public Health England (PHE) but that was nowhere near enough – we have clients with tracheostomies, we need full PPE to keep them and our staff safe,” Jules says.

“It has almost been a full-time job in finding this equipment ourselves. We have had to source overalls from a local decorating shop, as acquiring medical PPE was so challenging to source in the early weeks of this pandemic. Getting an adequate supply of all PPE has now become a lot easier, thankfully.”