PM facing renewed questions over 'afterthought ' care homes during pandemic

12 June 2020, 06:32

Boris Johnson is facing renewed questions over care home residents during the coronavirus crisis
Boris Johnson is facing renewed questions over care home residents during the coronavirus crisis. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Prime Minister is facing questions over Government efforts to protect those in care homes from Covid-19 after Opposition MPs claimed the sector was an 'afterthought' during the outbreak.

The report by the Government spending watchdog found that one in three homes for the elderly suffered coronavirus outbreak.

The report led to Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons public accounts committee, to say care homes had been left at the "back of the queue" for both personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing.

The National Audit Office (NAO) confirmed 25,000 hospital patients were discharged into care homes in England at the height of the pandemic and not all of them were tested for the virus.

The watchdog's report also found that stockpiles of PPE lacked essential items such as gowns and visors

Read more: Senior MP says care home resident were an 'afterthought' during pandemic

Former Conservative Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: said: "it seems extraordinary that no one appeared to consider the clinical risk to care homes despite widespread knowledge that the virus could be carried asymptomatically".

Read more: Test and Trace chief admits scheme is not 'gold standard' and needs improvement

The report was published after the head of the NHS Test and Trace programme key to preventing a second wave of infections while easing the lockdown admitted it is not yet "gold standard".

Baroness Harding insisted it was "fit for purpose" after figures showed a third of people who tested positive could not be reached by officials or failed to provide details of their contacts.

The lockdown was being eased across the UK amid concerns of the impacts it was having on people's wellbeing and the economy.

Amid grim warnings over the nation's finances, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) will provide on Friday its estimate for GDP in April, the first full month of the severe restrictions.

The ONS will also give an update on its infection survey for England, providing a figure for the number of new cases as the lockdown is eased.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) insisted it took the "right decisions at the right time" but was facing questions over its handling of the crisis in care homes.

The NAO report said that one in three care homes had declared an outbreak by May 17 and that 25,000 patients were discharged from hospital into the sector between March 17 and April 15.

"It is not known how many had Covid-19 at the point of discharge," the report said, noting the policy at the time was not to test all those being discharged to care homes.

As we reported earlier, Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons public accounts committee, said: "Residents and staff were an afterthought yet again: out of sight and out of mind, with devastating consequences."

Mr Hunt, who chairs the Commons health and social care committee, said: "Whilst the impact of such discharges meant the NHS was never short of beds or ventilators it seems extraordinary that no one appeared to consider the clinical risk to care homes despite widespread knowledge that the virus could be carried asymptomatically."

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Labour MP Ms Hillier added that frontline health workers had been "badly let down by the Government's failure to prepare properly" over the report's findings on PPE.

A DHSC spokesman said the department has been "working tirelessly" to reduce transmission and save lives in care homes.

"Since the launch of whole care home testing, the Government has provided over one million test kits to almost 9,000 care homes and on Monday we announced that every care home in England will now be offered a coronavirus test for all residents and staff, even if they have no symptoms," he added.

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