So now it’s official. Our caring Government sent more than 25,000 people home to residential care homes in just one month. They took no precautions about whether or not this frail group of people had the coronavirus by the simple expedient of testing them. Thus they introduced the virus into places with even more fragile and vulnerable people.
They also ensured that the NHS refused to take new admission from care homes. They made decisions about who could go from the community into hospital. They did all this without any thought that the care homes would become breeding grounds for the virus. They provided little PPE or other logistical report and for understandable reasons GPs were advised not to enter private or care homes.
Care homes and the community were then the front lines of the virus even more so than hospitals that within a reasonable time were fully equipped with PPE and had systems in place to manage virus conditions. It didn’t need to be that way. A national pandemic planning session in 2017 had shown that there were two main blockages should a pandemic occur. The provision of PPE and the conditions of care homes.
The Government did nothing about either of these. It failed to stockpile reasonable amounts of PPE. It allowed the care sector to languish with no understanding of its problems. A Green Paper on social care which was supposed to be produced before the summer recess in 2017 was given 5 more publication dates but no report has yet to appear.
The result of all this was that we put at huge risk not only the residents of care homes but also their staff. The staff would often go from home to home without adequate training and protection taking infection with them. All this was compounded by huge cuts since 2015 when Public Health budgets began to be slashed. This took away our ability to plan locally for things like pandemics or to encourage healthier living habits which would have reduced the death rate from the virus.
In other words it’s been a bugger’s muddle of callous indifference. There can be no doubt that this has cost lives and is continuing to cost lives. It has become apparent that the reason there is a slow decrease in the infections and death rates is because the virus is leaking out from those homes by way of visitors; staff and people providing services inside and to the homes.
We can no longer give the Government the benefit of the doubt as we did in the early days when we all agreed that any Government would have to ‘wing it’ and that all governments globally were faced with conditions not seen for a century. But when Care Minister Helen Whateley claims that care homes were looked after from the start we know it isn’t true.
Yesterday the Country’s Chief Statistician wrote to the Secretary of State for Health for a second time saying that the Government’s presentation of figures “falls well short” of normal standards. This was a comment which was specifically about the farcical reporting of tests which Sir David described as, “far from complete and comprehensible”.
The result of this has been much work for the grim reaper. It’s not only the elderly who have suffered but also people with other disabilities such as autism. There has been a high level of deaths amongst the poorly protected health workers and their families. The deaths in care homes have been exceptional. Care homes are accustomed to dealing with death but not on an industrial scale. One home which would expect to have about 20 deaths a year had 16 in three days.
The consequences will take a long time to be removed. There are expected to be considerable mental problems amongst care home staff. Mental health issues will also arise with people who were not able to support their loved ones as they died or even attend their funerals in any meaningful way. The care sector is wholly imbalanced. The people who run homes are now carrying a large number of vacant units whilst their costs have increased. This will not change soon as many will now be worried to allow their needy family members into care homes because of the reputation that they now have.
I believe that the solution to this is threefold:
- Pass over primary care and social care activities into the control of the local authority who alone can merge disciplines and sectors into a coherent working relationship.
- Treat those who work within the social care as being equal to those in the NHS with many of them doing similar jobs. Ensure that they are equally trained and supported.
- End the distinction between the funding of health care and social care which causes so many problems; so much bureaucracy and so much disagreement between equally cash strapped sectors.
I hope that these sensible suggestions will be looked at by all three Political Parties and that a consensus will emerge which all can sign up to. The problems of a growing number of aged people and of people living long lives with disabilities has been known about for at least 35 years. All Parties have failed to deal with this issue so now it is the responsibility of all Parties to get it right.