The care home crisis won’t be solved by handing out some badges 

Matt Hancock with the new CARE badge for social care workers, so they can get the same public recognition as the NHS 
Matt Hancock with the new CARE badge for social care workers, so they can get the same public recognition as the NHS  Credit: Stefan Rousseau

When the history of this terrible pandemic comes to be written, a spotlight will fall on our politicians and the experts who advised them.

In political parlance, “lessons will be learned” from the way this nation’s elected leaders dealt with the pandemic; who knew what and when, how and where resources were distributed. Why decisions were made.

At the forefront will stand Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, whose tone-deaf response to harrowing revelations about the rising death toll in our care homes was to pose with a green and white enamel badge featuring the word “CARE”.

Of course, the heroism of NHS medics and key workers will, quite rightly, be applauded in future, as it is every Thursday evening during lockdown, on the nation’s doorsteps.

Extraordinary tales of survival and courage, selflessness and all-hands-to-the-sewing-machines solidarity will lend lustre to the folk memory of how Britain beat the pandemic.

The astonishing £12m fundraising feat of Captain Tom Moore will be immortalised in a blockbuster film. The incredible recovery of 106-year-old Connie Titchen from Birmingham will surely be mentioned in dispatches.

But their wonderful, miraculous achievements alone will not tell the full story, the true and truly shocking story of how the most frail, those at greatest risk of Covid-19, were left to perish in care homes.

In Staffordshire, 24 residents at Bardwell Hall Nursing Home died in a three-week period. At the Philia Care Home in Peterborough, six residents – a third of the total – died in a ten-day period.

Earlier this week, there were reports of 15 deaths at a single care home in Wavertree, Merseyside, and eight at a home in Stowmarket, Suffolk. As I write this, ten more care-home deaths have been recorded in Portsmouth.

Across Britain, grieving families tell of GPs refusing to visit their loved ones in care homes, of pleas for testing going unanswered, of blank refusals by management to send sufferers to hospital.

Some appalled relatives only learned that there had been blanket “do not resuscitate” agreements in place for the elderly and vulnerable when they were lifted this week.

At present, there are around 400,000 people living in UK care homes. Whether due to cock-up or conspiracy, it’s very hard to escape the horrific suspicion that deaths were – are – considered to be “inevitable”, and thus a price worth paying to free up beds for others.

How else to explain to Hancock’s insistence that hospital patients testing positive for Covid-19 will continue to be discharged into care homes, despite growing evidence that policy is spreading the disease?

Jeremy Hilton, the group leader on Gloucester City Council, told The Telegraph that a care home under his supervision had been hit by a major outbreak after accepting around six hospital patients suffering from Covid-19.

“A person is dying at that home every day now,” he told The Telegraph. “How can it be safe to send sick people into a home where elderly people are supposed to be cocooned away from the rest of us? It’s madness.

“They took around half a dozen hospital patients, and look where they are now. The Government needs to change course before more people die.”

Figures released by the National Records of Scotland reveal one in four coronavirus deaths have been in care homes. An extrapolation of those statistics suggests that around 4,000 care home residents have died from the virus across the UK.

These are not included in the official death figure, which stands at just over 13,000 – because elderly sufferers, unseen, disregarded, have gone uncounted.

Care staff have been left without personal protective equipment (PPE) against a fatal, highly infectious disease that spread like wildfire among the bed bound and the vulnerable.

But social care services have been left without promised funding from a £1.6 billion package set aside for local authorities.

That money is desperately needed for PPE, extra staffing and urgent cleaning supplies. The clock is ticking, lives are at stake – yet nothing has been done.

On a more positive note and after much pressure, NHS England and the Care Quality Commission have finally pledged to roll out testing of staff and residents. So why has it not yet begun?

This is no time for political point-scoring or undermining a nation seeking to manage this unprecedented, nightmarish crisis.

But this government has been in power for a very long time, all the while repeatedly paying lip service to “sorting out” the Cinderella issue of social care.

It has become abundantly clear that particular roof was not mended when the sun shone, and now we find ourselves in the eye of a tempest.

It’s tempting to wonder what would happen if any other section of our society were to be so callously dismissed – but no other section would be overlooked with such cavalier disregard.

When critical care beds are in short supply, it makes sense to treat those most likely to recover: the young, the fit, those with no underlying health issues.

No doctor relishes being in the position of rationing care. But nor would any doctor endorse the idea of refusing care wholesale to a cohort of the population simply because of their age; otherwise 106-year-old Connie Titchen would not be alive today.

At present, there is spare capacity in the system: the new, 4,000-bed NHS Nightingale hospital, set up temporarily in east London, treated just 19 patients over the Easter weekend.

It was created as an overflow facility for intensive care at other London hospitals, and is intended to be a critical care facility for the seriously ill but stable Covid-19 patients who have transferred from permanent London hospitals.

Not all patients would be strictly suitable. But in the light of so many empty beds, is it really necessary to send Covid-19 sufferers into care homes, where they can spread infection to those who can least withstand it?

I’m not medically trained, so I don’t know the answer. But Matt Hancock ought to know someone who does. It’s time he told us.

Read  Judith Woods at telegraph.co.uk every Thursday from 7pm 

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