THE LACK of testing at the start of the pandemic “undoubtedly cost lives”, said the owner of a Newport care home which lost more than 20 of its residents to coronavirus.

Brian Rosenberg, who owns Tregwilym Lodge Nursing and Residential Home in Rogerstone, said lessons had to be learned from the catastrophe to improve the handling of any future crisis.

Tregwilym Lodge lost 14 residents to suspected coronavirus in just one month at the start of the pandemic, leading staff to feel the social care sector had been "marginalised".

Mr Rosenberg said the virus spread like wildfire at the 74-bed home, leaving staff “broken” and powerless to protect residents, despite their best efforts.

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“We were devastated. For 98 per cent of the people who come to Tregwilym, it’s the last place they will ever know,” he said. “They are frail and some might have advanced dementia and they become almost like one big family.

“If you lose one member of your family after another, and watch them go in this way in quick succession and continue to work despite the circumstances, it’s heart-breaking.

“In 2021, we are all much wiser and we have the benefit of vaccinations. But at that time, because of the way the virus was being transmitted and handled – and the lack of testing – transmission was inevitable.

“What was totally shocking for us was the rapidity of how it went through the home. Those who worked through it were literally on their knees. They were broken.”

South Wales Argus: Tregwilym Lodge Nursing and Residential Home in Rogerstone. Picture: Google Street View.Tregwilym Lodge Nursing and Residential Home in Rogerstone. Picture: Google Street View.

Mr Rosenberg, who has owned Tregwilym Lodge since 1985, said the lack of testing in the early stages of the pandemic “undoubtedly cost lives”, but instead of being drawn into a “blame game”, was keen for an open and honest discussion to avoid a repeat of this situation.

“I’m keen on lessons being learnt,” he said. “If you’re looking for people to point the finger at, then the inquiry will become very defensive. Lots of people will be trying to protect their own position. 

“We need an open and honest discussion on what went wrong and what are the lessons learnt.

“You have to bear in mind in early 2020, there were no vaccinations, there was a very poor testing regime for people going in and out of hospital and in particular discharges so that if they were asymptomatic, they were not being tested.  In my view, that was one of the biggest problems.

“It undoubtedly cost lives and was a big mistake but it was the prevailing approach at that time, it was flawed and it was wrong. We can all say that in hindsight.

“Today the thinking is totally different – they test, test, test, test, test. Why couldn’t we have done it then? The resources were the same then as they are today and the testing regime was available.

“The upshot was that over a very short period we lost just over 20 people and it went through the home like wildfire. So much so, that the undertakers could not even keep pace with us because not only where there deaths in our home, there were a lot of deaths in the community. It was something like you would expect to see in a third world country.”

South Wales Argus: Brian Rosenberg outside Tregwilym Lodge Nursing and Residential Home. Picture: Care Forum Wales.Brian Rosenberg outside Tregwilym Lodge Nursing and Residential Home. Picture: Care Forum Wales.

Mr Rosenberg did praise the roll-out of the vaccine in Wales.

“There’s a big success story here – the vaccination programme has really worked,” he said. “Give the Welsh Government their dues. They were quick. They were focused. I’m all for criticising when you need to, but give credit where it is due.”

Mr Rosenberg was speaking as Care Inspectorate Wales – the independent regulator of social care and childcare in Wales – released new statistics showing Covid-19-related deaths in individual care homes in Wales.

Care Forum Wales chief executive Mary Wimbury said: “Bitter experience showed that once the virus had a foothold, it was incredibly difficult to control. It’s only vaccination that has changed that. 

South Wales Argus: Care Forum Wales chief executive Mary Wimbury. Picture: Care Forum Wales.Care Forum Wales chief executive Mary Wimbury. Picture: Care Forum Wales.

“The valiant efforts of staff and carers deserve the highest praise and gratitude – these people risked their lives in frontline care roles to protect those people in their care and tragically some paid the ultimate price. Even now, we cannot underestimate the impact constant vigilance against Covid-19 has had on staff.

“Much more is now known about the risk of asymptomatic spread of the virus and the risk of airborne infection and it is important we continue to learn from experience.

“Every single death was a tragedy for the loved ones of those who passed away. It was and remains the greatest crisis ever faced by the social care sector in Wales. The publication of these figures underlines the terrible toll we have all suffered.”