Labour demands “fuller investigation” after release of care homes Covid report

Elliot Chappell

Labour’s Jonathan Reynolds has called for a “fuller investigation” into the government’s handling of care homes in the coronavirus crisis following the publication of the public accounts committee report.

In an interview with Sky News this morning, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary discussed the report published today, which looked at the government’s approach to social care in the health crisis.

The public accounts committee report found that Covid-19 had exposed the impact of years of inattention, funding cuts and delayed reforms, and criticised decisions made in the height of the pandemic.

Reynolds said: “When we look and get to the point where we’re investigating all aspects of how the government has responded to this crisis, we already knew that the treatment of care homes and of social care was going to be a very significant part of that.”

He added: “I’m not surprised by these findings in this report today, but this is obviously something that requires an even fuller investigation to find out exactly how and why those decisions were made.”

The document published today stated that the decision to discharge 25,000 patients into care homes, without ensuring they had been tested for the virus, was an example of the government’s “slow, inconsistent and at times negligent” approach.

The committee went on to say that it is “concerned” that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had continued discharging patients without testing “even once it was clear there was an emerging problem”.

Hospitals in England were instructed to discharge patients on March 17th, but patients were not required to take a test for coronavirus before being discharged until April 15th.

The government also didn’t introduce tests for all care homes staff and residents until the end of April, despite the fact that Public Health England told the committee that it had been aware of asymptomatic transmission in March.

Public accounts committee chairwoman Meg Hillier MP argued that care homes have been “effectively thrown to the wolves” by the government during the health crisis, and said that “the virus has ravaged some of them”.

She also described the failure of the government to provide adequate protective equipment to staff and volunteers in the care sector during the pandemic as a “sad, low moment in our national response”.

Hillier said this morning: “The deaths of people in care homes devastated many, many families. They and we don’t have time for promises and slogans, or exercises in blame. We weren’t prepared for the first wave.

“Putting all else aside, government must use the narrow window we have now to plan for a second coronavirus wave. Lives depend upon getting our response right.”

Keir Starmer highlighted that the government had been slow to update its advice on care homes in May, pointing out that until March 12th it had said “it remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home will become infected”.

Shadow social care minister Liz Kendall said: “This report confirms what we have known for a long while – that the government was too slow to act to protect older and disabled people, and that a series of mistakes were made despite clear warnings from what was happening in other countries and the experiences of those on the frontline.

“Staff were left without vital protective equipment, thousands of older people were discharged from hospitals to care homes without tests, and ministers failed to ensure social care was given the focus and grip it needed to get through this crisis.

“The government must learn from its mistakes to ensure the tragedy of Covid-19 in care homes is never repeated. They must also put in place the long term reforms families desperately need to ensure a social care system that is fit for the future.”

Reacting to the report’s publication, a DHSC spokesperson said: “Throughout this unprecedented global pandemic we have been working closely with the sector and public health experts to put in place guidance and support for adult social care.

“Alongside an extra £1.3bn to support the hospital discharge process, we have provided 172 million items of personal protective equipment to the social care sector since the start of the pandemic and are testing all residents and staff, including repeat testing for staff and residents in care homes for over-65 or those with dementia.

“We know there is a need for a long-term solution for social care and we will bring forward a plan that puts social care on a sustainable footing to ensure the reforms will last long into the future.”

The public accounts committee has made several recommendations, including a review into which care homes received discharged patients and the identification of national leads for all critical elements of the pandemic response.

It has also called for the needs of the social care sector in the UK to be given the same weight as those of the NHS, and has urged the government to respond to the points set out in its report ahead of a second wave of the virus.

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