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Anger as government reveals more than one in ten care homes now have coronavirus cases

Care home providers have warned that the true scale of the coronavirus outbreak has been under-estimated.

3 min read

Ministers are under mounting pressure to protect care homes from the coronavirus as the Chief Medical Officer revealed that almost 100 of them had been affected in just 24 hours.

One former minister accused the Government of letting the elderly be “abandoned like lambs to the slaughter”, as Professor Chris Whitty said the rate of infection in the UK’s care homes was now 13.5% - up from 9% last week.

A total of 92 had recorded new outbreaks in the past day, he revealed on Monday.

Speaking at the Government’s daily press conference, the Chief Medical Officer said: “We want to extend the amount of testing of people in care homes. 

“Because clearly care homes are one of the areas where there are large numbers of vulnerable people and that is an area of risk and therefore we would very much like to have much more extensive testing.”

But Labour said the comments had “exposed the growing crisis in our care homes because of coronavirus”.

Shadow social care minister Liz Kendall said: “Ministers must publish daily figures of deaths in care homes so we know the true scale of the problem and how fast it is spreading. They must also ensure social care has the resources it needs and that vital PPE [personal protective equipment] and testing get to care workers on the frontline.”

Gavin Edwards of Unison said the lack of PPE was now a “massive issue among care workers”, accounting for two-thirds of messages from the trade union's members in the sector.

He told the Daily Mail: “People are genuinely scared for themselves and the people they live with.”

The daily death toll published by the Department of Health and Social Care covers reported deaths in NHS England hospitals and does not include those who have lost their lives in care homes.

“We are losing a whole generation to this virus" - Nadra Ahmed, National Care Association

Separate Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures that do include care homes rely on registered death certificates - with care home providers warning that the lag in processing these means official figures are likely to be an underestimate.

The ONS recorded 20 coronavirus-related deaths in care homes in England and Wales in the week ending March 27.

But Nadra Ahmed of the National Care Association warned: “We are losing a whole generation to this virus but it feels like, because they are old, the deaths don't count.”

Caroline Abrahams of Age UK said: “The current figures are airbrushing older people out like they don't matter.”

The National Care Association has meanwhile called for the appointment of a dedicated ‘Cabinet Minister for Care Homes’ to focus government efforts on the sector - a move backed by Labour MP Peter Kyle.

Writing in the Daily Mail, former Conservative pensions minister Baroness Altmann hit out at the Government’s strategy.

She said of the figures: “The shameful truth is that many care home residents who fall ill are being refused hospital admission.

“In all my decades of campaigning for the dignity of the elderly, there has been no clearer snapshot of how they are being abandoned like lambs to the slaughter. They are being left to die because we don’t value their lives as highly as the young.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We are working around the clock to give the social care sector the equipment and support they need. We have provided 7.8million pieces of PPE to over 26,000 care homes.”

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