Coronavirus: We must rethink how we support our older neighbours

Crouch End campaigner David Winskill is calling for a 'national determination' to look at how we car

Crouch End campaigner David Winskill is calling for a 'national determination' to look at how we care for the elderly. - Credit: Archant

The UK prides itself on having the world’s finest health service, yet we only support it with a fraction of the GDP devoted by our continental neighbours or the USA.

The Covid epidemic is demonstrating the terrifying impacts of a decade of working at the margins of NHS capacity.

Despite the Herculean efforts and sacrifices of health and care workers, Thursday night clapping, rainbows on dustbins and watching a gallant old chap trudge up and down his garden lawn, revealed last week that the UK currently has the world’s worst outcomes for deaths and infections.

The figures emerged on the same day that the government announced a £300m initiative to “develop a new track and trace service” with local government: two and a half months after track and trace was abandoned in March.

No doubt Matt Hancock is envisaging that new service will be developed at pace, then ramped up a bit and will deliver a world class outcome. Just like the lads at Deloitte would do. Best not to ask about Matt’s app. The UK has had 45,000 deaths with Covid on the death certificate and a further 60,000 “excess deaths”. Of these, a disproportionate number (about a quarter) have died in tragic circumstances in the country’s 24,000 care homes.

For comparison, the world war that many of these residents lived through yielded 67,200 civilian deaths in the UK.

When we review our response to Covid, a special mention should be made of the efforts of Mesdames Kuenssberg, Maitlis, MacDonald and Barnett: it is perhaps no surprise that it was a group of women who shone a light on how the boys’ club government, Public Health England and, to some extent, the NHS, allowed the care sector, responsible for 450,000 vulnerable people, to fend for itself. Although the sector wasn’t represented in the 2016 Operation Cygnus, it was identified as unprepared for a pandemic and recommendations were made. Earlier this year SAGE spelled out the vulnerability of these residents.

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There have been countless reports of inadequate and defective PPE, dedicated staff on minimum wage shuttling between care home gigs and taking the virus with them, testing (when eventually available) being useless as results can take up to 12 days, discharge of Covid patients from hospitals to care homes and inadequate clinical support and vague advice from PHE.

It is a miracle that, so far as we are aware, deaths of older and frail people receiving care in their own homes hasn’t seen the same volume of infection and death.

Our elected representatives have known for decades that our care sector is in a mess, not fit for purpose and is failing hundreds of thousands of users.

A decade of austerity has taken £8bn of government funding out of adult services and many care homes have seen the fees they charge arm-wrestled down by councils. This has left the sector subsidised by self-funders and financially unstable. Despite this, in 2019, profits of £1.5bn was made by the ragbag of hedge funds and venture capitalists that run much of the sector from tax havens.

In response to the scandal of deaths in care homes, there must be a national determination to re-think how we support our older neighbours, what minimum levels of access to care should be, what governance should look like and how it must be fully integrated with the NHS. That would be something really worth clapping for.