Care homes have been on the frontline of the UK’s battle against the pandemic, with at least a third reporting coronavirus related fatalities to date.
The Health Secretary has insisted that the Government “threw a protective ring” around the social care sector, but by the end of May close to 13,500 people had died from Covid-19 in residences in England and Wales. In Hong Kong, that figure is zero.
“The ring that Matt Hancock said he’d thrown around us, I can’t see it myself,” says Mike Padgham, managing director of Saint Cecilia’s Care Group and chair of the Independent Care Group, which represents providers in North Yorkshire.
Pandemic policy missteps
One of the most catastrophic decisions was the push to discharge patients to care homes to free up beds in the NHS, a strategy adopted after the UK watched with horror as Italy’s well-funded hospitals were driven to the verge of collapse in March.
“It was a frightening time and I think it seemed like the right strategy, to make space in the NHS,” says Mr Padgham. “When we took discharges our attitude was, ‘we’re in a war and we have to help.’”
He is, though, highly critical of the manner in which the policy was enacted. Care homes were told they were part of a “national effort” to save lives, but Government guidelines said there was no need to test discharges for Covid-19 because patients “can be safely cared for in a care home”.
In reality this turned residences designed for communal living into incubators for disease.
“It demonstrates that the Government doesn’t really understand how social care works, and never has done. They didn’t think, ‘we might be seeding the virus among those most vulnerable to the disease’. Once they had cleared NHS beds, they forgot about it. Job done,” Mr Padgham says.
Paul Johnstone, National director at PHE, said the Government’s advice for care homes was “based on the latest scientific evidence” at every stage of the pandemic.
“The care homes guidance we produced in February was related to what we knew at the time, and with further evidence, it was updated in March,” he says. “Care homes have always been a priority for Government and, along with the wider health sector, PHE is working closely with care homes and the wider social care sector.”