By Emma Landsburgh
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a quarter of known coronavirus deaths have occurred in care homes.
In the news this week for not following his own rules, Dominic Cummings defended the government’s original ‘herd immunity’ approach to the pandemic, stated that ‘if some pensioners die, too bad.’ But has the government really sacrificed Britain’s most vulnerable?
According to the Office of National Statistics, 45,899 deaths had been recorded in care homes from the 2nd of March to the 1st of May 2020; over 12,000 of which were related to the coronavirus pandemic. The virus became the main cause of death for male care home residents, and is currently the second most common cause of death in women in care homes- the first being Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.
As with a hospital, viruses spread quickly due to the close contact between care home residents and staff. Unfortunately, the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has also had a contribution to the spread. Residents are also liable to having underlying diseases and health problems.
As we now know, covid-19 is not a normal virus. Which begs the question: did the government do enough to protect care homes?
The answer to that question is an uncategorical no.
The government‘s response to the pandemic has been lacking and delayed. Although it is now ‘the new normal’ to see members of the general public wearing gloves and surgical masks in supermarkets, parks and on beaches, those who really need PPE have not been able to get hold of it.
The availability of PPE has greatly affected care workers and their approach to work. The government has failed to deliver the necessary quantities of PPE to hospitals and care homes. One care provider has stated that they were meant to get 35,000 face masks a week and instead they are getting 400. The government has refused to collaborate with Europe in the production and sharing of PPE supplies on multiple occasions.
Many supposed government guidelines are not being followed as care homes become the supportive branch of the NHS. The testing of new residents has been ignored. However, as social workers struggled to access tests, new residents have been entering care homes without being tested. These procedures are essential to ensuring the safety of the vulnerable. At the beginning of the virus many of these procedures were delayed or bypassed. Many patients were discharged from hospital to prepare for the wave of new patients who had contracted coronavirus. In Scotland alone, more than 900 of these patients were moved into care homes without being tested.
The governments original guidance was laissez-faire as care was ensured to carry on the same as always as they said that there was “no need to do anything differently in any care setting”. This guidance remained in place until March 13th. Although many chose to ignore this advice. The government has left vulnerable people in a dangerous position, open to the spread of the virus. Rachel Beckett, chairman of Wellburn Care Homes, took control and enacted a self-imposed lockdown across 14 locations. The decision was made to stop hiring agency workers, to not allow visitors and to not admit discharged hospital patients unless they tested negative. Staff have even moved on site, as coronavirus entered the home with two people testing positive and three showing symptoms.
On the 15th of May the government announced a care home support package to tackle the spread of coronavirus in care homes. The new £600 million Infection Control Fund is intended to support care home residents and staff. This will go alongside the £3.2 billion given to local authorities. Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary, said “From the very start of this outbreak, we have been working to protect our brilliant social care workforce and the most vulnerable in our society.”
But on the whole its too little too late. Care homes needed stockpiles of PPE and extra emergency support before Covid-19 touched down in the UK. Given the timeline of the pandemic, the government certainly had ample time to fortify care homes.
The approach to care homes has left the question of how we approach the ageing within our community and their care. This crisis has shown what problems there were originally within the care system as well as the governments approach to the care sector. Jeane Freeman, Scotland’s Health Secretary, says that there should be a review into social care after the impact of coronavirus. The government has greatly let down its most vulnerable, by leaving care home doors open to covid-19.