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Coronavirus: UK government initially neglected care homes, care boss says

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  • Boris Johnson’s government faces fresh accusations of putting care home residents at risk.
  • Professor Martin Green, Chief Executive of Care England, on Tuesday said that the UK government’s initial strategy for fighting the coronavirus neglected care homes.
  • This led to residents not receiving hospital treatment, and a shortage of PPE, Green said.
  • He added that some people released from hospital with COVID-19 symptoms were sent to care homes. 
  • “We should have been focusing on care homes from the start of this pandemic,” Green said.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Boris Johnson’s government faces fresh questions over it how effectively it has protected care homes during the UK’s coronavirus crisis, with one of the sector’s most senior figures saying that the government’s initial approach put vulnerable residents at risk of catching the virus.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock and other ministers have defended the government’s handling of care homes, with Hancock insisting that protecting elderly residents has been “absolutely at front of mind right from the start.”

However, Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, on Tuesday told the Health & Social Care Committee that that the government’s early focus on protecting the National Health Service came at the expense of care homes, its staff, and residents.

“We should have been focusing on care homes from the start of this pandemic,” he told members of parliament on the committee this morning.

“What we saw at the start was a focus on the NHS and that meant care homes often had their medical support from the NHS withdrawn. We also had the disruption of our supply chains on PPE (protective equipment).”

He added that care home residents who required hospital treatment didn’t receive it.

“What we didn’t see was anybody who might have required a hospital intervention, going to hospital — and that wasn’t just about covid, but other conditions as well.”

Green said that at the beginning of the crisis, the UK government had a policy of “emptying hospitals and filling care homes,” and that people with the virus were being put into homes after leaving hospitals.

“Despite what is being said, there were cases I think of people who didn’t have a Covid-19 status or were symptomatic who were discharged into care homes,” he told the committee.

“Given that care homes are full of people with underlying health conditions, I think we should have focused on where the people at most risk were, rather than particular organisations, when we were prioritsing where we putting our energies.”

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Green added that care homes were yet to have access to regular testing for their staff. 

“The short answer, chair [committee chair Jeremy Hunt], is we have had the announcement, but what we haven’t had is the delivery — and we’re not really clear when that is going to arrive.”

He added “people are often finding that their tests are not arriving on time or indeed not being taken away on time.

“They are finding significant time delays before people have got results.

“So sometimes we are looking at 8-10 days before people get results.

“One of the things about testing is it’s not a one-time occupation. We need regular testing — it’s got to be done two or three times a week if possible, so we can get really get on top of this.”

Around 12,500 in UK care homes had died after catching the coronavirus as of Tuesday morning, according to government figures. However, the London School of Economics believes the true number is over 22,000.

The Office for National Statistics estimates that in the week leading up to Friday, May 8, around 12,500 care home residents died after testing positive for the coronavirus either in the homes or in hospitals.

In the same committee session on Tuesday morning, social care experts from other countries offered advice on what the UK could do to make care homes safer during the COVID-19 crisis.

Adelina Comas-Herrera of the London School of Economics said “ideally” care providers in every UK region ought to have additional space for isolating residents when they can’t do so in their homes.

She told MPs that in South Korea, where have been zero deaths in care homes, residents who tested positive for the virus were immediately put into quarantine away from their care homes.

Isabell Halletz, CEO of German care home organisation Arbeitgeberverband Pflege, said that German care homes do not accept people released from hospital unless they can be quarantined for 14 days.

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