Challenging flu outbreak leads to care home deaths

Prof Kate Ardern
Prof Kate Ardern

A flu epidemic at borough care homes last winter is believed to have been a contributory factor in eight deaths.

Thirty residents are understood to have been affected by an outbreak of respiratory conditions at locations across the borough.

This was a very challenging outbreak which affected care homes in Wigan borough and across the country

Prof Kate Ardern

And the crisis led to 748 senior citizens and care home staff receiving urgent treatment to counter the spread of the virus.

Wigan Infirmary and the North West Ambulance Service faced additional pressures, through increased admissions, and further challenges, when discharging OAPs, as homes temporarily closed to returning residents, the borough’s health and wellbeing board has been told.

Council and health bosses undertook a debriefing session following the outbreak from last October to March.

An investigation found there was a low uptake of flu vaccinations among care home staff - and some were concerned about reporting in sick as it may affect their pay.

Another issue was raised after it emerged swab kits to test for flu were being sent out in the post, taking 48 hours to turn around.

This delay was addressed as the outbreak continued, with direct deliveries instead.

The situation was also complicated further as advanced nurse practitioners had to communicate with elderly people with dementia, whose flu condition was not always immediately apparent.

Ultimately there were 24 outbreaks, with 14 put down to influenza type A following laboratory analysis, with the remainder attributed to metapneumovirus, rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus.

Prof Kate Ardern, the borough’s public health director, said: “This was a very challenging outbreak which affected care homes in Wigan borough and across the country.

“Our analysis of the response highlighted the excellent multi-agency work which took place in the borough to manage the outbreak.

“It also highlighted the very good reporting mechanisms that are in place and we thank all care home managers and staff for continuing to contribute to this.

“We take our responsibility to respond effectively to such incidents very seriously which is why we have identified a number of areas for improvement should we face a similar flu outbreak in future years.

“Our thoughts are with all those who lost loved ones last winter as a consequence of the flu.”

Some of the keys lessons identified by the debriefing were enabling advanced practitioners to prescribe preventative medicines and providing extra training for care home managers in identifying cases and managing outbreaks, both of which are said to have been implemented.

The review also pledged to promote a greater immunisation take-up among care staff and ensuring a quicker turn around for swab results.