A distraught care home manager says she will never get over the loss of 13 residents whose lives were claimed by Covid-19.

Cindy Clutton says she and the rest of her dedicated team at Hillbury Care Home, were “utterly devastated” by the tragic toll as the new highly infectious mutant strain of the virus sweeps through Wrexham. The home is part of the Pendine Park group.

She said her staff had battled valiantly to keep the virus at bay at Hillbury since early March.

Over the summer they had managed to contain an outbreak without any loss of life when five people caught the illness.

After working so hard it was heart-breaking that coronavirus had been able to breach their rigorous infection control defences when a vaccine was so close.

According to Cindy, it was a major concern that Wrexham was a hotspot for the new, more transmissible strain of the Coronavirus.

Wrexham now has five of the 10 highest localised case rates in Wales, the highest being 1,468 cases per 100,000 in Gwersyllt West and Summerhill.

Health officials say the new variant now accounts for 70% per cent of the cases in North Wales.

The organisation had, said Cindy, put an “enormous amount of effort and resources” into keeping residents and staff safe.

They had been way ahead of the curve in locking down in early March, well before the official Government advice to do so.

As well as spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on extra PPE, they had built handwashing and temperature checking stations to screen staff.

Their in-house training arm, the Pendine Academy of Social Care, had devised and run specialist infection control courses, either socially distanced in person or online.

Cindy paid tribute to the “fantastic support” they had received from Wrexham County Borough Council, the team of District Nurses and local GPs.

Their priority now was providing care for the remaining 40 residents at Hillbury and keeping them safe and well.

With Covid-19 “rampant” in Wrexham, she pleaded with the public to adhere to the well-known safety protocols of social distancing, wearing masks and regular handwashing to suppress the virus.

The importance of the message, said Cindy, had been underlined by the “scary timeline” of the spread of the disease at Hillbury.

After being “pretty poorly” at home after contracting the virus herself, Cindy has now recovered and is back at work leading her team.

She said: “I have been working in social care since I was 16. This is my life. I will never ever get over this. I am totally heartbroken.

“The staff are also utterly devastated. Unlike a hospital where people are generally in and out in a few weeks or less, you build a really close bond with your residents.

“They are like members of your extended family and we are privileged to provide care for them in their twilight years.

“It doesn’t make it any easier that those who passed away had underlying health problems. When you have people as frail as this, the odds are against them.

“We did not lose anybody until December 18 and then we had the worst Christmas ever when we were facing unprecedented pressures. Christmas will never the same again.

“Thankfully, many of the residents have recovered and life is slowly returning to normal with parties, music and laughter.

“Hillbury has been serving the community in Wrexham for over 50 years, having been established by the Sisters of Nazareth in the 1960s.

“I have a brilliant team who have been heroic in fighting this deadly virus and we are determined to return Hillbury to what it has always been – a place where people can come together as a community to enjoy life.

“The support of the families has been deeply touching and overwhelming. They are constantly in our thoughts because they are part of the extended Hillbury family. We also mourn their loss.

“Because of the huge challenges caused by staff self-isolating due to the high prevalence of the virus in Wrexham, the support of Wrexham social services department and environmental health officers, local GPs and especially the District Nurses, has been immense.

“The Hillbury family will never forget the support and good wishes we have received. It’s been quite amazing, especially over the Christmas period.

“They are also among the unsung heroes in the war against this virus.

“The support from our wonderful District Nurses has now returned to normal levels.

“Anybody who thinks this virus is not a real and deadly threat should swap places with me and see how quickly and aggressively it can spread through a care home or a community like Wrexham.

“The fact that the virus spread so rapidly suggests it is this dreadful new strain of the disease which is so much more transmissible. We do know however that it reached Wrexham a while back and is now entrenched in the community.

“Unfortunately, the new Covid strain was not flagged up soon enough by the Government who allowed people to mix over Christmas, potentially turbo-charging the spread.

“As a result, all protocols were based on Government advice in relation to the original version of the virus and this was absolutely critical because this lapse enabled the new variant to spread like wildfire through the community.

“It’s reported that the new strain will not respond to current lockdown and will not bring the R rate down enough to get it below 1 which is a massive worry.

“It is a cruel and indiscriminate disease and I appeal to everybody living in Wrexham to adhere to the official advice in terms of social distancing, wearing masks and not mixing households so we can try and suppress the virus until we can roll out the vaccine.

“Until then the spectre of community transmission is a real and present danger. This new strain has ramped up the threat to a whole new level and I hope we can get the vaccine to the residents in all the care homes in North Wales in the days ahead. With this virus, time is running out and as we found at Hillbury time can be against  you.”

The plea for people to behalf responsibly was endorsed by director Gill Hughes, Pendine Park’s Responsible Individual, who said the level of community transmission in the area was “frighteningly high”.

She said: “The infection rate and the numbers have grown exponentially since November.

“We are seeing significant pressures on the NHS and alarming levels of community transmission of the virus to health and social care workers, as well as the general population. Even hospitals can’t keep it out. This new strain is so much more dangerous because it’s so infectious.

“As an organisation, Pendine Park has put its heart and soul into protecting the residents for whom we provide care, so the scale and the severity of the loss at Hillbury is truly heart-breaking.

“The fact that the staff kept the virus out for so long is testament to the dedication and tenacity of the team led by Cindy who spared no effort in fighting this horrible disease and continue to do everything in their power to protect the people in their care.

“We are very fortunate and thankful for the support we have received from our local authority, our District Nurses and local GPs, which has been invaluable. We are eternally grateful to them.

“We are also grateful that the vaccination programme in care homes is underway.

Two of our care homes have received the vaccine and we hope, along with all other care homes in North Wales, the speed of the rollout can be increased so that all residents in care homes protected.

“Until care home residents have the protection of the vaccine, they, like everybody with underlying health problems, they are at grave risk from this new variant strain of the Covid-19 virus. It looks like we have a new enemy at the door.

“Hope is on the horizon but this is a desperate life or death race against time.”

Lawrence Isted, on behalf of the Incident Management Team at Wrexham Council, who is currently dealing with the outbreak at Hillbury Care Home, said: “”It is with great sadness that we can confirm that 13 residents at Hillbury Care Home have died from Covid-19 in recent days.

“We send our condolences and sincere sympathies to family, friends, residents and staff at the home.

“We have met regularly since the outbreak was first confirmed to bring it under control and we will continue to offer our support throughout this difficult period.

“We are confident every precaution has been taken to prevent further spread of infection within the home and the safety of residents and staff remains everyone’s number one priority.”