The government's neglect of care homes is one of the greatest failures of this crisis
"When the immediate crisis has passed social care must, for once, be a priority," James Murray writes
It should be an absolute priority for the Government to protect residents and workers in care homes. But the testimony of care workers reveals a shameful pattern of neglect
The failure to protect people living and working in care homes has become one of the Government’s greatest failings in the Covid-19 crisis so far.
Over the past week, my team and I have been calling round the care homes in my constituency. We have listened to care workers who have been risking their own health to look after some of the most vulnerable people in society. They have spoken of their despair at the Government’s incompetence and their painful feeling of a sense of neglect.
One care worker told us how traumatic it had been for their colleagues, who are used to around three residents dying each year in their home, but who had now witnessed more than double that number of deaths in a single fortnight of this crisis. There was praise for Ealing Council for their help with critical supplies of PPE, but an overwhelming sense of having been neglected by the national Government.
This experience from the frontline is no surprise given what we’ve heard nationally. Six weeks ago, the head of Care England told me and other members of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee that PPE ordered before this crisis by care homes was being “taken at the borders for the NHS”. No-one would dispute the NHS’s need for PPE, but to leave care homes with a plan to protect them too has left them fatally exposed.
This week, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser implicitly invited questions over the Government’s competence by telling us the scientific advice was to “get on top of [the outbreak] in care homes” – but adding that doing so was something for the Department of Health and Social Care “to operationalise and take accountability for.”
It is not hard to see where questions over competence and feelings of neglect come from. In one care home we spoke to, they were still waiting for any residents to be tested, whilst others reported only limited testing being available. After being slow to increase testing, the Government promised at the end of April to offer testing to all care home residents and staff – yet it took another week for a letter to go out from minister finally asking local directors of public health to help them coordinate this.
Time and again, we heard those on the other end of the phone tell us about their sadness at their colleagues in the care sector not getting the same benefits as NHS staff during this crisis. In our conversations, they initially made those comments in relation to the immediate situation, but their reflections quickly encompassed a wider, deeper pattern of neglect.
It must be an absolute priority for the Government to protect residents and workers in care homes. And when the immediate crisis has passed, of the many things that need to change in our country after, social care must, for once, be a priority.
As one worker said when we spoke to them, they were very upset with the Government and the lack of recognition for care. They felt like they have been in crisis for far longer than the coronavirus. Staff are tired and upset, they said – but they have been for years.