OPINION: The East Yorkshire Labour Party column with Kate Lovett: No Freedom Day for care homes
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has estimated that since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, 41,000 care home residents have died.
This has laid bare the fragile state of the UK’s social care sector (£8bn cut from social care budgets since 2010) and the shortcomings in the Government’s response.
In the summer of 2020, the former Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed that ‘a protective ring’ was thrown around care homes ‘right from the start’. In fact, care home operators lamented that all Government attention at the start was focused on NHS care, while care homes struggled to get personal protective equipment (PPE), proper testing, or financial support to increase staffing.
During the first wave of the pandemic (mid-March to mid-June 2020), according to the ONS, Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificates of 19,986 UK care home residents.
This amounted to one in 20 of all care home residents and more than a third of all the 55,000 recorded Covid deaths during the first wave.
By the time of the second wave (end of November 2020 to mid-February 2021), when we might have assumed that the Government would have established more effective protocols to manage the situation, the ONS reported a further 18,358 care home residents dying with Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate.
The ONS suggests that the first wave statistics were likely to be an under-estimate and, when considering the ‘excess deaths’ (the number over and above what would normally be expected), the revised figure could reasonably be adjusted to reflect a more accurate 22,891 Covid-19 deaths of care home residents.
The number of deaths from Covid-19 of UK care home residents across the two waves can, therefore, be estimated as around 41,000 or nearly one in ten of the UK’s care home population.
When he took office two years’ ago, Boris Johnson promised “We will fix the crisis in Social Care once and for all with a clear plan that we have prepared.
“To give every older person the dignity and security they deserve.”
We have yet to see this plan!
Furthermore, 13 Conservative Government ministers with social care in their remit have come and gone since May 2010 without making any impact.
As we enter the third wave, the NHS vaccine programme seems to have reassured the Government, despite the warnings of expert opinion, that it is safe to lift remaining lockdown restrictions.
Yet the local newspapers reported that 1,772 East Riding residents were told to self-isolate after being in contact with someone who tested positive in the week to July 7, the highest number since January 20.
Care home residents are still at risk of dying from Covid and care home operators are still struggling with staff sickness and absence when self-isolating; some are still struggling to access cost-effective and reliable sources of PPE.
Care home providers, residents and their families in the East Riding and the rest of England will be hoping that this decision does not prove to be wildly reckless.