Ministers accused of 'betraying' nursing homes over failed promises

New care home test fiasco: Ministers are accused of ‘betraying’ nursing homes as it emerges just one in four staff with symptoms are being screened despite Government pledge

  • The UK government promised tests for care home staff and residents
  • However many people in care homes who need tests have not yet received one
  • In Essex’s Westcliff Lodge care home, nine residents have died from the virus
  • Baroness Ros Altmann says the elderly have been neglected during the outbreak
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Ministers were accused of ‘betraying’ care homes yesterday after failing to meet a promise to provide coronavirus tests for all staff and residents.

Officials said on April 15 they were rolling out tests for all care workers who needed them and two weeks later extended this to all staff and residents of English care homes whether or not they had symptoms.

But a survey has found fewer than one in four care home staff who fear they have coronavirus have been screened – and many care homes say they can’t get any tests at all.

Ministers have been accused of failing care homes after failing to meet a promise they made on April 15 to provide coronavirus tests for all staff and residents 

 Other care managers have been told tests are only available for residents who have shown symptoms for over 48 hours, which they say is useless in trying to stop the disease’s spread.

MPs described the situation as ‘madness’ and one care home boss said there was a ‘complete variance between what the Government is saying and what’s happening’. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the daily Downing Street press conference on April 28: ‘We will be rolling out testing of asymptomatic residents and staff in care homes in England.

‘This means anyone who is working or living in a care home will be able to get access to a test, whether they have symptoms or not.’

But Rachel Beckett, chairman of the Wellburn chain which has 14 care homes across the North East, said last night: ‘These promised tests for all just don’t exist.

‘I’d say to Matt Hancock, don’t stand on a platform and make a promise that you can’t carry out.’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in the last week of April they would be carrying out testing of asymptomatic care home residents and staff but has now been accused of making promises he cannot keep

Mark Ellison, who owns Temple Grove Care Home in East Sussex, said he has had no luck getting his staff and 65 residents tested.

He said: ‘Our nearest test centre is in Gatwick so it is an hour-and-a-half round trip. Carers are on minimum wage and don’t have their own cars – and even if they do, if they’re feeling ill an hour-and-a-half journey is not feasible.

‘The Government clearly hasn’t thought this through. There’s a complete variance between what the Government is saying and what’s happening.’ He has also been unable to get tests for residents through the post.

Mr Ellison, 46, said the NHS had used ‘emotionally bullying tactics’ to try to pressure him into taking hospital patients who had not been tested for coronavirus.

He said: ‘They told me I was not doing my bit for the country, that I was letting people down, it really was as strong as that.’ 

Jayne Connery, head of Care Campaign for the Vulnerable, said: ‘It’s a total contradiction and betrayal of care home residents and staff.’

Head of Care Campaign for the Vulnerable Jayne Connery says that this lack of testing is a betrayal of both the care home residents and the staff

Several care home bosses said the only information they have received about testing since Mr Hancock’s promise on April 28 is an email the following day from the Care Quality Commission on behalf of Public Health England (PHE), stating ‘only residents that are self-isolating because they are symptomatic’ are eligible.

It added: ‘Tests should be carried out on people who have been symptomatic for more than 48 hours but less than seven days.’

PHE said these were tests that have always been available and were different from those promised by the Department of Health.

Data collected last week by the National Care Forum (NCF), which represents non-profit providers, suggests just 22 per cent of care home staff needing tests have had them. The NCF collected data from 38 members which together employ almost 31,262 care staff.

Of the 6,469 residential care staff needing tests due to displaying symptoms, only 1,436 had been tested. Just 2 per cent of staff were able to receive a test at drive-through centres through the website for employers, and no home tests were available this way.

Data shows that just 22 per cent of care home staff who need tests have received them

One care provider said: ‘We have not had any success with the employer portal. Despite several emails being sent to register we have not heard anything back at all.’ Some care workers have been asked to travel a round trip of up to 120 miles for a test.

Vic Rayner, executive director of the NCF, said: ‘The Government’s promise to provide tests for all staff is exposed as pure words. Social care needs to be systematically prioritised in each and every testing system in order for Government to live up to its commitment.’ 

Labour MP Liz Kendall, the shadow minister for social care, said: ‘There are desperately low levels of testing. We’ve heard of appalling cases where care workers in Norfolk have been told to go to Sheffield and those in Peterborough to Stansted Airport.

‘These people are suffering with coronavirus symptoms and don’t often have their own cars. It is madness – the Government doesn’t understand how real people’s lives work.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘As capacity has substantially increased, testing is being prioritised for both care home staff and residents with and without symptoms.’ Boris Johnson last night pledged to increase testing further to tackle coronavirus outbreaks in care homes.

He said in an address to the nation: ‘We must reverse rapidly the awful epidemics in care homes and in the NHS.’  

 ‘We are living in fear’: Terror of carers in facility where third of residents have died in outbreak

 By Andrew Levy

Staff are living in fear at a care home where more than a third of residents have died during the outbreak, a senior manager has said.

Nine elderly people have passed away at the 22-bed Westcliff Lodge care home in Southend, Essex, since last month. 

A carer has also died having been ill for three weeks before succumbing to the disease. The deaths came as the virus tore through the facility, despite staff imposing a lockdown a week before the Government brought in measures.

Nine residents and one staff member from 22-bed care home Westcliff Lodge have died during the coronavirus outbreak

Dr Jenny Smith, director of care at the independent home, said the number of staff off sick had left others under ‘tremendous pressure’.

She added: ‘There’s so much fear among the staff because this is a virus that affects people of all ages and that’s a primary difference really compared to normal influenza outbreaks.’

Dr Smith criticised the lack of testing in the care sector, saying it ‘wasn’t timely enough’.

One of the elderly victims was Winnie Tilley, 86, who died four days after first developing a cough.

Janice Mullin (left), who lost her mother and Westcliff Lodge resident Winnie (left, in photo) to the virus, has described the lack of testing for care home residents as ‘scandalous’

Her daughter, Janice Mullin, described the lack of testing as ‘scandalous’. ‘The Government has overlooked the elderly and pooled their resources into other generations,’ she said.

Former pet shop owner Mrs Tilley, who lost her husband Roy in 2013, died in her bed at the care home on April 15.

Her daughter added she had Parkinson’s disease and dementia but was in good health and there was no reason to expect her to die so soon.

Another victim at the home Dom Lanuza, 83, had been coughing so much that he was unable to drink water, his son Marlon said.

Dom Lanuza (left, pictured with wife Lina) is another resident from the care home in Essex, Southend, to have passed away due to the virus

He first showed symptoms on April 4 and died six days later. Grandfather Mr Lanuza arrived in the UK from the Philippines in 1977 and had been married to his wife Lina for more than 50 years.

She visited him four times a week before the lockdown, but had not seen him since then.

Son Marlon added: ‘We could have minimised fatalities if we’d tested people and there had been proper [protective] gear to wear.’

Dismal failure has turned our most vulnerable into sitting ducks

Commentary by Baroness Ros Altmann, Former Pensions Minister

The crisis we are living through has shown the very best of Britain: from the selfless commitment of frontline NHS and social care staff to the 750,000 who came forward as volunteers. 

But the pandemic has also shone a cruel spotlight on one of our greatest failings: our attitude towards the elderly.

As the Mail revealed on Saturday, there is growing evidence that some hospitals, in a desperate race to clear beds before coronavirus cases surged, are sending patients suffering from Covid-19 back to care homes without telling their managers.

The coronavirus pandemic is shining a cruel light on this country’s greatest failings – our attitude towards the elderly

Now Covid-19 is ravaging care homes nationwide. Those who are most vulnerable have become, in effect, sitting ducks, while scientists fear these institutions are now ‘seeding’ the infection back into the community. 

Since the Mail began powerfully exposing this crisis, politicians have lined up to express horror at the mounting Covid-19 death toll of care home residents. In the Commons last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he ‘bitterly regrets’ what is unfolding. 

But it is politicians who are primarily responsible. Years of dithering, indifference, under-funding and trepidation means social care in Britain does not reflect – and instead neglects – the needs of an ageing population.

Policy experts and campaigners like myself have argued for years that this would result in tragedy but official attitude seemed to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

Suddenly, these warnings have become a dark reality. Until April 29, Covid-19-related fatalities in care homes were not even included in the Government’s daily death toll and the initial exclusion of these figures was symptomatic of shocking abandonment. The latest figures reveal there have been about 6,000 coronavirus-related care home deaths and that number is rising.

Britain is neglecting the needs of an ageing population – and it’s the politicians who are responsible for this

I have heard heartbreaking stories of older people who would normally have been admitted to hospital being left to suffer at home or in their care home.

In one appalling case, an elderly woman was taken to hospital with a broken shoulder and sent swiftly back to her care home after it was strapped up.

She was badly dehydrated and urgently needed to be put on a drip, but the hospital refused to re-admit her, demanding that she be rehydrated in the care home. A few days later, she died. 

This crisis is worsened by the dismal failure to carry out comprehensive testing which could have enabled infected residents to be isolated and staff to self-isolate or carry on working depending on their test result.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock recently announced testing would be extended to all care workers and residents, but homes still say they are still waiting for testing and for many it is simply too late.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that testing would be available for all care workers and residents, but many have not received it and for some it is too late

We need action now to arrest the carnage – and to prevent it happening in the future. The Government’s attention must be broadened beyond the NHS to ensure patients within the social care sector are treated with parity of esteem, not like second-class citizens.

The NHS and social care should be integrated under one national body with free basic care funded nationally, rather than relying on local resources which cannot meet rising demand.

We must also question the adequacy of social care oversight as The Care Quality Commission has failed to ensure decent standards.

Yes, structural change will be meaningless without extra cash, but with imagination and political will, that can be achieved. Extending national insurance, possibly integrating it into income tax and introducing windfall taxes on the turnover and profits of online service providers, retailers and tech giants, could help achieve this. 

There should also be greater incentives for savers to put more money away for their old age – as part of their pensions or innovative products such as a Care Isa or Family Care Plans.

Whatever happens, the coronavirus pandemic is a call to arms. It is said that a civilisation can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. Sadly, Britain is failing badly.

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