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Feature: Care home deaths ‘send a chill down the spine’

The number of Covid-19 deaths in care homes has nearly tripled since the beginning of January.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 1,705 care home residents died from the virus in the week ending January 22.

This is an increase of more than 1,000 from the week ending January 1, when 661 died. It is the highest number since May 2020 and the sharpest increase since Covid-19 records began in April.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said it is devastating that so many are losing loved ones in the most difficult of circumstances.

‘It is shocking and utterly heartbreaking to see that Covid deaths of care home residents are rising again, sending a chill down the spine of anyone with a loved one living in a care home.

‘It is truly devastating that so many are losing loved ones in the most difficult of circumstances, especially if they haven’t seen them face to face for a considerable time.

‘It is particularly tragic given we are racing to roll out a vaccine to care homes. Sadly, it looks like a vaccine will arrive too late for some.’

Vic Rayner, executive director of National Care Forum (NCF) said the figures remind us just how many people have been lost during the pandemic, which claimed the lives of more than 20,000 care home residents during the first wave.

Experts said care homes were ‘effectively thrown to the wolves’ after the government ordered the discharge of 25,000 patients, including those infected or possibly infected with COVID-19, from hospitals into care homes where staff were left without guidance, PPE or access to testing.

The order came just four days after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. 

The government has since launched the Designated Setting scheme which enables Covid-19 patients to be discharged from hospitals back into care homes.

Vic Rayner said: ‘Any death of care home residents across the care sector is a tragedy.

‘The figures today remind us just how many people have been lost during this pandemic, and how vital it is that everyone across the caring community and the wider public keeps focus on doing everything within our gift to reduce the spread of the pandemic.

‘Those who live in care homes do so with confidence that providers will do everything possible to keep them safe. It’s a very sad day to hear of these numbers and it’s evidence of the huge tragedy brought on families everywhere from this dreadful virus.’

Age UK is calling for older people to be better represented in government to ensure they aren’t overlooked again.

Caroline Abrahams  said: ‘As the pandemic has gone on it has become ever clearer how highly fragmented, understaffed and underfunded social care really is, problems to which successive governments have largely turned a blind eye for a decade or more.

‘Our care workers have been magnificent, but it often seems that they have been doing great things despite the system, not because of it.

‘One of the lessons from the pandemic is surely that older people’s issues have low visibility in Whitehall, so when a huge threat like Covid-19 arrives it takes too long for the right actions to be taken.

‘There’s no doubt, for example, that care homes were dangerously exposed to the virus early on, something that just might have been avoided had there been a minister or government unit leading on policy for our older population.

‘With no one in the corridors of power to speak for them, at times of crises we’ve seen just how big the risk is that older people get totally overlooked.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said from the start of the pandemic it has been doing everything it can to ensure care home residents and staff are protected.

This includes testing all residents and staff, providing over 255m items of PPE, ring-fencing more than £1.1bn to prevent infections in care homes and making a further £4.6bn available to councils to address pressures caused by the pandemic, including in adult social care

‘Every death is a tragedy, and our thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones during this pandemic.

‘We have been doing everything we can to protect care homes and have placed residents and staff in the highest priority group for vaccinations.

‘More than 6.5m people vaccinated so far and by the end of the month, we aim to have offered every elderly care home resident a vaccine.

‘This government has invested billions of pounds in additional funding for the sector, supported testing for residents, increased testing for staff, issued expert guidance on infection control, and distributed free PPE to protect staff and residents.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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