HEALTH Secretary Matt Hancock pledged on May 15 that residents and employees at all care homes in England would be tested for coronavirus by the beginning of June. However the Data Analysis Bureau, a business analysis firm, has found that only 15 per cent of staff have been covered so far, and 62 per cent of care homes have had no tests at all.
Researchers surveyed 12,407 caregivers from 650 homes across England, Wales and Scotland. DAB director Simon Briscoe said: ‘The rate of testing of care home staff has picked up in the last week but is still far too slow to get close to the target set by the Government.’
According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, more than 12,000 people have died in care homes across England and Wales, sparking increasing criticism after the Health Secretary claimed that a ‘protective ring’ had been thrown around them from the beginning of the outbreak. Christina McAnea, of the public service union Unison, said care staff have struggled with protective equipment shortages, testing delays and inadequate guidance on how to keep themselves safe. She said the death toll showed ‘the government’s failure to support those in society who are most in need of care. Staff looking after these residents have effectively been abandoned too.’
It is difficult to disagree with her conclusion. The government’s declared aims were to protect the NHS from Covid-19, and, ironically, over-70s by ‘isolating’ them, but in so doing they seem to have abandoned the care homes to their fate, even insisting that they accept patients discharged from hospital regardless of their Covid-19 status. They made a bad situation worse, but they might also have missed the key to the whole puzzle of how the virus spread. While warning the public not to get too close to strangers in the street, they missed the fact that the virus more likely thrives in closed settings full of vulnerable individuals, with staff moving between care homes helping to spread it, precisely as Lindsey Dearnley warned in The Conservative Woman on March 28 in an article entitled ‘Care homes and the virus – a new Chernobyl?’
This failure is an serious indictment of politicians and civil servants dealing with the crisis.
Sadly, it seems the Government’s ‘Test and Trace’ programme will prove to be off-target in care homes, and as to the ‘protective ring’ around care homes, it turns out that this was meant to protect the NHS from the most needy. Fortunately it is not too difficult to ‘track and trace’ the responsibility for this disaster to its source.