Care home bosses have accused the government of prioritising the NHS and not care homes – and failing to make good on promises of support.Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England which represents care homes, told MPs on Tuesday that from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic care homes were a second thought despite housing the “most vulnerable people”.
He also said there had been no recommendation for how care homes should react to a pandemic when the government planned for one in 2016.
Hunt: Social care should be an equal to NHS
Professor Green told the Health and Social Care Committee: “Our focus at the start of this pandemic was clearly the NHS, and there was not a recommendation in either the planning process that happened in 2016, or indeed in this current pandemic at the very start, that the most vulnerable people were in care homes.”Shadow social care minister Liz Kendall accused the government of being “too slow” to tackle the spread of coronavirus in care homes.
“Social care has not had the same priority as the NHS and these services have not been treated as inexplicably linked,” she said.
Sam Monaghan, chief executive of Methodist Homes, which runs 222 care homes and schemes, told the committee there was a “stark disconnect between the ongoing government rhetoric on support for care homes and the lived reality on the ground”.
Both Professor Green and Mr Monaghan said there is still no routine testing for all residents and staff, while PPE remains in short supply, with care companies having to buy it “on the open market”.Professor Green added that when tests are done, there are cases when results are lost or people are waiting too long – eight to 10 days – for results, so it is unclear whether they are current.
‘Hospital can be dangerous place’
James Bullion, president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, added: “There isn’t widespread testing. It is growing, but the care workforce is 1.6 million in this country so we are nowhere near the level of testing that’s required.”He said the UK did not take into account quickly enough the risk of transmission from people going between hospitals and care homes, and also among staff.Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, told Sky News: “I’m absolutely sure there was never any intention to expose residents in care homes.”There may have been an unintentional effect of saying that we were doing everything to protect the NHS and that had the impact of deprioritising what was going on in care homes.”I have to take responsibility for this, as do other previous governments, but there is a separation of the NHS and the social care system and there shouldn’t be.”
:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, SpreakerHealth secretary Matt Hancock told parliament: “It is appropriate, clinically, and safer for people to be discharged from a hospital into a care home.”He said it was important infection control procedures are in place and said those procedures and government guidelines have been strengthened as the clinical understanding of coronavirus has strengthened.Mr Bullion said he wants care staff who are going into people’s homes to be tested to reassure both staff and people receiving care they are not going to catch COVID-19.He pointed to a survey that said about 10% of people who receive care at home have stopped it to protect themselves, which he said could affect their health and wellbeing.And he warned that agency staff are moving between three or four different care homes because there is no “career grade structure” and the low pay means staff are having to supplement their income.
Care home staff are worried about giving COVID-19 to their patients and their own families
Professor Green also criticised the “endless guidance” from different agencies.He said: “People are also concerned in the workforce about the fact that they’ve had endless guidance from various different agencies, many of which has been changing by the day, which frankly I don’t understand why.”You know, we just need clear guidance from Public Health England. I think that what has come out of this for me is that Public Health England understands the NHS but doesn’t understand the social care workforce and what our needs are.”What we need is some really clear central direction, and we need some clarity about how care homes will be supported by the NHS.”Mr Hancock said today’s official figures showed the number of deaths in care homes “has fallen significantly”, down by a third in the last week – from 2,423 to 1,666.He said: “But whatever the figures say we will not rest from doing whatever is humanly possible to protect our care homes from this appalling virus to make sure residents and care colleagues have the safety and security they deserve.”