A new report by MPs into the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic says the “tragic scale of loss” in care homes was among the worst in Europe and could have been mitigated.
The joint inquiry by the Science and Technology and Health and Social Care Committees found the “lack of priority” given to social care during the early stages of the pandemic was “illustrative of a broader and longer-standing issue”.
The committees said the “inadequate initial focus on social care” at the beginning of the pandemic resulted in the “seeding of infections” in care homes.
Over 41,000 COVID-related deaths were recorded in care homes between 16 March 2020 and April 2021. The report highlights the rapid discharge of around 25,000 patients from hospitals into care homes between 17 March and 15 April 2020 with “no expectation” they should be tested with guidance issued on the assumption that care homes would be able to safely isolate people. The report also highlights the risk posed by a lack of PPE in care homes in the early stages of the pandemic.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “Putting in place the policies and resources needed to prevent a similar future disaster is the least that the legion of bereaved families is entitled to expect.”
The Age UK head said social needed to be better represented and understood in government and the “upper echelons” of the NHS. She called on the government to follow through with its funding and policies to stabilise social care and rebuild it.
Professor Martin Green OBE, CEO, Care England, said: “This is a really important report and a precursor to the full public inquiry. It demonstrates that the myopic focus on the NHS was detrimental. Moving forwards we need to ensure that health and social care are on a level playing field and that there is parity of esteem. We cannot let this report gather dust.”
Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives & Residents Association, said: “The damning report confirms what care users and their families have known all along – the care sector was an afterthought. Older people needing care were failed by the very systems designed to protect them. They were abandoned in the early stages of the pandemic and continue to be left behind today, as the only group still subject to stringent restrictions on their contact with family and friends. We must urgently learn lessons to ensure older people’s rights are protected now. Waiting until the spring for a public inquiry to start will be too late for too many.”
A government spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic we have been guided by scientific and medical experts and we never shied away from taking quick and decisive action to save lives and protect our NHS, including introducing restrictions and lockdowns.
“Thanks to a collective national effort, we avoided NHS services becoming overwhelmed and our phenomenal vaccination programme has built a wall of defence, with over 24.3 million infections prevented and more than 130,000 lives saved so far.”
“As the Prime Minister has said, we are committed to learning lessons from the pandemic and have committed to holding a full public inquiry in spring.”