Hertfordshire County Council has pledged to continue to financially support care homes through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Care homes have seen their running costs increase since the start of the pandemic with the need for vital personal protective equipment (PPE) and additional staffing.

And at the same time – with fewer people moving in to care homes – their income has fallen.

The county council has already committed to support the extra costs of PPE and additional staffing for care homes until December.

And at a meeting of the county council’s cabinet on Monday (November 23) it was agreed that the support – currently running at around £2.5 million to £3 million a month – should be extended until March.

The decision follows a grant of more than £11 million from the Government’s ‘infection control fund’ that has been allocated to the county council.

Executive member for adult care and health Cllr Richard Roberts said the government funding would ‘help enormously’.

He told the cabinet: “The infection control funding that came through from government last month – at £11.3 million – will help enormously in being able to carry through proposals to ensure that our care providers,  in terms of PPE and staffing, will be secure and sustainable all the way through that period.”

In some circumstances the county council has also offered financial support to care homes that would otherwise be under threat.

Cllr Roberts told the meeting of the cabinet this was being made available to care homes on a ‘case by case basis’ where there were issues of bed under-occupancy or sustainability – to the tune of £500,000 a month.

But he stressed that this was only granted where there is a “strategic need” – and where “it is absolutely essential we keep a care home open”.

Data reported to the cabinet showed highlighted three outbreaks of Covid-19 in care homes in the month to October 8 – with six deaths.

But Cllr Roberts said the outbreaks were more contained than in the first peak and that weekly testing was identifying asymptomatic cases in staff and residents.

And praising the work of care home staff, he said staff in care homes – for both older people and those with learning disabilities – were “working their socks off” to keep people safe and secure.

“There are a number of care settings with infection,” said Cllr Roberts.

“The good news is, unlike in the first peak,  that this has not run amok and that there are really good infection control measures.”

Cllr Roberts also welcomed the availability of new high speed lateral flow tests, which can quickly identify those with Covid-19.

And he suggested that within the next month their use could make a ‘huge difference’ in enabling visiting by family members, while keeping infection under control.

At the meeting leader of the council Cllr David Williams pointed to the potential use of the lateral flow tests in supporting students to return home safely.

He also highlighted the total financial support th county council had received from the government since the start of the outbreak – which was reported to be £130 million.

And executive member for resources and performance Cllr Ralph Sangster said this was a “significant and somewhat surprising sum of money given the circumstances”.