Care homes

The government’s social care reform plans don’t add up

As Covid-19 swept through care homes in the spring of last year, the public watched on with horror and helplessness. About a third of all Covid deaths in England took place among residents of these homes. It was worse overseas. In Spain, care home residents accounted for 40 per cent of Covid deaths last year. In the Netherlands and Sweden, it was around 50 per cent. In Canada, almost 60 per cent. But this doesn’t provide much comfort. Britain may belong to a large club of countries that got their pandemic policy wrong — but the results, regardless, were deadly. The huge holes in Britain’s social care system have been

Lockdown killed my mother – and thousands like her

I barely recognised my mother when I saw her in the hospital bed the night she died. It had been many months since we were last able to meet, when she was still a force of nature. Now there was almost nothing left of her. The death certificate records that Elizabeth Carol Chamberlain died of dementia and kidney disease aged 88. But it was lockdown that really killed her. For my parents, like so many people of their generation living out their later years in care homes, lockdown offered not protection but imprisonment. ‘It’s cruel,’ Mam would say, over and over again, in the painful and awkward phone calls that

Did NHS discharges ‘seed’ Covid into care homes? A look at the data

Did Matt Hancock’s negligence lead to Covid seeding into care homes because patients were not tested before being discharged? This was one of Dominic Cummings’s more potent charges  and it brings back memories for me because I spent a chunk of last summer looking into this. In my line of work, the success rate for stories is quite low: investigate five avenues and you’re likely to find four dead ends. So you end up with a lot of data and research that’s never used, because the original premise doesn’t hold up. I was (and remain) critical of much of government policy on Covid response: it seemed horribly plausible to me that panicked NHS

Robert Peston

Was Matt Hancock guilty of ‘negligence’?

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has insisted that he promised the Prime Minister and his former chief aide Dominic Cummings only that all elderly and vulnerable patients would be tested for Covid on discharge to a care home when there was adequate testing capacity, and not with immediate effect. This is Hancock’s defence against Cummings’s charge that the Health Secretary lied to him and the PM when promising to test patients prior to them going to a care home. But I understand Cummings has documentary evidence that as late as May last year he and the PM feared they had been misled by Hancock about how he would protect the

Letters: The unfairness of ‘free care for all’

Taking care Sir: I agree completely with Leo McKinstry that care for parents should be paid out of their estate (‘Home economics’, 15 May). The costs of care are what people effectively work for, not for the passing on of wealth paid for by the taxpayer. My mother lived until she was 100, and was in care for almost 14 years. Although she had a property and shares, we funded her care until her cash/share balance was £15,000. After this time she was means-tested and between her pension and the rent from her flat, we were able to pay for some of the care, with the rest paid for by

The new care home scandal

Care homes have been at the centre of controversy and mishandling throughout the Covid-19 crisis. Decisions taken last spring to move patients out of hospital, without so much as a Covid-19 test, contributed to a surge of cases in facilities designed to look after Britain’s most vulnerable. Failure to tackle early on the problem of asymptomatic transmission meant that workers weren’t isolated. They unknowingly brought the virus in, sometimes to multiple homes. Zero detection – until it was too late – resulted in tragedy. It’s estimated that over 29,000 excess deaths have occurred in care homes since last March. Now there is another care home scandal brewing, the details of

The hidden death toll of lockdown

The last patient I treated was 105 years old. She has lived through two world wars, a depression and at least five pandemics. It’s a real honour to treat centenarians. They teach me much about life: how it is and how it ends. I can also lighten the mood with my 80-year-old patients by telling them that they’re still young. It’s common to hear talk about an ‘ageing society’ being some kind of disaster befalling the country. Yes, people are leading longer, healthier lives now than ever before. Is this really a ‘demographic timebomb’? I’d call it the greatest achievement of our time. When my patient was born in 1915,

The tragedy waiting to happen in our care homes

My grandmother, who has suffered from a major stroke, is bed ridden and barely compos mentis. She no longer has the cognitive ability to enjoy the relative intimacy of video calls on WhatsApp from well-wishers, or the simple pleasure of a Skype call with close family and friends. During this period of social distancing, her loneliness – now that visitors are not permitted in the home to prevent infection – is heart-breaking. A comforting hug or kiss on the cheek, in the brief windows when she is awake, is out of the question. Even a carer tucking her in at night could be fatal. Naturally, those with vulnerable relatives like

It’s shameful how we have locked down our elderly

There’s a lot I don’t know about care home visits during this pandemic. I don’t know how straightforward it would be to find a way for close relatives to make proper and regular visits to the very frail. I don’t know details of the arrangements for staff in those care homes to work there and go home afterwards, as hospital staff do too. I don’t know the floor-plans of the thousands of care homes in the United Kingdom, nor how each could be adapted to allow high-priority visits from a relative. There are some 15,000 homes in England alone, and some half a million old people living in them. I

Boris Johnson’s human shield

At a Conservative party conference fringe event last Sunday, Lord Bethell, a health minister, was asked where he thought Britain ranked in the world in terms of its response to the pandemic. ‘I think there have been some outstanding pieces of delivery that have not been fully appreciated,’ he said. ‘And I think it will be like the Olympics, that when it’s all over and we look back and reflect, we will actually be extremely proud of ourselves.’ A few hours later, Public Health England confessed that it had failed to include 15,841 people who’d tested positive for Covid-19 between 25 September and 2 October in the daily updates and

Universities are not going to be ‘care homes of the second wave’

According to Jo Grady of the University and College Union, universities risk becoming the ‘care homes of the second wave’ unless students defy the government’s attempt to get them back in face-to-face education. She went on to claim that a return to campus ‘risks doing untold damage to people’s health and exacerbating the worst public health crisis of our lifetimes’ and could lead to a ‘silent avalanche of infections’. Are these fears justified, or are they an attempt by the union to get its members out of having to do any work (while presumably collecting their salaries)? Any large number of people getting together and mixing from across the country

How Covid spread in Sweden’s care homes

Why did Covid prove so lethal in care homes? Between 2 March and 12 June, there were 66,112 deaths of care home residents in England. Of these, 19,394 ‘involved’ Covid (in the Office of National Statistics’s own terminology) – 29.3 per cent of the total. As has been apparent from the beginning of this crisis, the risk of dying of Covid-19 sharply rises with age, so in that sense it is not surprising for deaths among care home residents to be high – but why has it proved so difficult to protect residents from the disease, not just in Britain but in many countries? It simply isn’t possible to isolate

How Britain lost the war against coronavirus

Sun Tzu, the great Chinese military commander, said that all battles are won or lost before they are ever fought. By first week of February, the UK and many other European countries had lost the battle against coronavirus. Another of my favourite life sayings is that ‘Assumption is the mother of all screw-ups’. Assumptions by UK government, Sage, NHS, Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care were certainly the mother and father of this one. The NHS, PHE and Sage thought they were well prepared for a pandemic: there were dozens of reports, response strategies, protocols, operating plans, models, transmission studies — you name it, there

Letters: What Hong Kong really needs from Britain

Hong Kong’s future Sir: So we have a moral duty to protect the people of Hong Kong and guide them back to the golden world which existed before 1997 under British rule (‘Let them come’, 6 June)? Come off it. It is true that the hope behind the 1984 Joint Declaration was for HK to move gradually to stronger democratic forms, although under the direct authority of the government of the PRC, as it had been with the UK. What has destabilised Hong Kong and alarmed Beijing is digital grass-roots empowerment — the same thing that half the world’s governments are facing. In Hong Kong it appears in a particularly

Three mistakes the UK made at the start of the corona crisis

There are three areas where government policy now implicitly accepts that they made mistakes in their earlier handling of the pandemic. The first is the desire to increase testing to 200,000 tests a day. This suggests that the earlier decision to pull back from a test and trace strategy because the infection was being spread in the community was due to a lack of a testing capacity; something that could have been remedied if the government and Public Health England had adopted the collaborative approach to testing that they now have. The second is care homes. It is now clear that the policy of discharging people from hospitals into care

Letters: It’s not so easy to boycott Chinese goods

Jobs for all Sir: Charles Bazlington championed Universal Basic Income in last week’s magazine (Letters, 9 May). It is welcome to see innovative ideas being discussed at a time of unprecedented economic crisis. Might I suggest that if we wish to empower citizens, not just pay them, we instead look to provide employment via a National Job Guarantee? A guaranteed job at the living wage backed by the state and administered by national and local government as well as the charity and private sectors. This crisis has proved that people need not only money but purpose, camaraderie with colleagues, and the pride of a ‘job done well’; they want to

Starmer’s Telegraph splash is a perfect piece of politics

The Daily Telegraph is considered the voice of the Conservative grassroots – so today’s splash will have driven a sliver of ice into minister’ veins. Here is the new leader of the opposition, a knight of the realm no less, urging the government to get a grip of the Covid-19 outbreak in care homes. ‘We owe so much to the generation of VE Day,’ he says. ‘We must do everything we can to care for and support them through the current crisis.’ On the day we remember the end of hostilities in Europe, Sir Keir Starmer has planted his tanks boldly on the Tories’ lawn. We should be wary of reading

Letters: The toilet paper stockpile that lasted 80 years

The case for small homes Sir: Your editorial rightly highlights what must be one of the government’s priorities once the worst of this crisis abates (‘Call that care?’, 2 May). I have been the owner and manager of a small, five-bedroom care home for nearly 30 years and, having had a majority of privately funded residents, can recognise ‘the iniquity whereby residents with savings have found themselves cross subsidising those who are funded by local authorities’. The government should firstly allow the payment of care home fees to be tax refundable. It is only fair that those who are saving the state the money for their care should at least

The NHS has been protected – care homes have not

As the NHS was preparing for the Covid onslaught, thousands of hospital patients were discharged to care homes in an attempt to free up beds. This worked: about 40,000 NHS beds are now unoccupied, four times the normal amount for this time of year. Attendance at A&E has halved. Almost half of all intensive care beds with mechanical ventilators lie unused. This is before the seven pop-up Nightingale hospitals, most of which are also empty, are factored in. The NHS was effectively protected in this crisis. Care homes were not. While those in hospital were being given the care one would expect from one of the world’s best-resourced health services,

The truth behind ‘do not resuscitate’ orders

Coronavirus is revealing many good things about our society: the number of people willing to volunteer to help tackle the outbreak and help the isolated, the number of former doctors and nurses keen to return to the front line, and the number of businesses that have switched to making equipment and protective clothing for those healthcare workers. But it has also revealed our ignorance about many matters that are still important outside of a pandemic. Today’s example comes, inevitably, from our general reluctance to think about what old age and end-of-life care look like. Care homes have expressed concern that residents and their families are being pressured into signing ‘do not resuscitate’