IF Health Secretary Matt Hancock has any understanding of the notion of ministerial responsibility, he should be considering his position today.
Yesterday the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released data on care home residents’ deaths involving coronavirus up to June 12.
These are the brutal headlines:
Of 48,866 Covid-19 deaths up to June 12 in England and Wales, 19,394 or 40 per cent were care home residents. This is significantly more than stated in the weekly ONS reports because those included only care home residents who died in care homes, not in hospitals.
Up to June 12 there was a total of 54,430 excess deaths above average in England and Wales. Startlingly, 29,393 or 54 per cent of those were care home residents. That means more than half of the excess deaths this year were care home residents. This shows not only the absolute importance of protecting care homes to keep Covid-19 deaths down, but reveals the almost total failure of the Government to achieve this although, along with ‘saving the NHS’, protecting the elderly and vulnerable was the nominal aim of first the self-isolation and subsequently the blanket lockdown policies.
The ONS data also reveals the collateral impact of lockdown on care homes. Of the 29,393 excess (above normal for the time of year) care home deaths, 9,999 or a third of the total, one in three, were non-Covid deaths. Many of these will have been due to the impact of lockdown on care home residents – stress, neglect, lack of access to medical attention, understaffing, confusion and despair – and the further isolation of an already isolated and often poorly staffed sector.
In mid-May, under fire after ONS figures first revealed that care home deaths could be double the national toll, Mr Hancock insisted that ministers had tried to throw a protective ring around care homes right from the start of the outbreak.
It is now even more evident that they failed, and catastrophically so. Martin Green, chief executive of Care England which represents care homes, said then that he wanted to see evidence of this ‘protective ring’. He asked why, for example, they did not prioritise care homes for testing. Good question. ‘If there was a protective ring initiated by the government, it did not feel like that for the people who were living and working in care homes,‘ he said.
Self-evidently the policy was doomed from the start because of the lack of PPE and any sort of medical precautionary controls. Indeed we at The Conservative Woman flagged serious concerns that this was a words-only policy as early as March 28 and predicted the crisis that was about to unfold, calling it ‘a new Chernobyl’.
Lindsey Dearnley, a care support worker, wrote:
‘Up and down the country thousands of carers and agency workers circulate between numerous care home properties, creating the perfect viral delivery system. Many helpless patients will die. People will read about this scandal with the kind of shock we experienced when we saw the workers cleaning up at Chernobyl even though they knew the risks. We work without masks, we work without uniforms, and we don’t always know where we will be working next; these are the very kind of tinder-dry conditions which Covid-19 will exploit with ease.’
It has of course since been revealed that to add to this tinder-box was the extraordinary and inhuman decision of hospitals to return hundreds of geriatric patients, many with Covid, back to their care homes to free beds. What we don’t know about is the grim circumstances in which many of these elderly will have died, shut off from relatives or concerned friends. Will we ever know whether they got the end-of-life care and pain relief they needed?
It is no comfort to say we were right. But we were. The Government has displayed its quite astonishing ignorance – or lack of concern – about the way the care home sector works and why, without carefully planned staff support and testing, lockdown would be a cruel and counterproductive policy.
These figures are simply devastating for the government’s Covid-19 response. They lay bare the consequences of its failure to protect care homes and the deadly impact of lockdown on the frail and vulnerable.
The buck has to stop somewhere and, regardless of SAGE and scientific advice, Mr Hancock was the responsible minister. He must resign or be made to. That, or Boris Johnson must resign.