Care homes: Helen Whately says she wants to increase visits
It has led to 41,758 care home residents in England and Wales dying with Covid-19 on their death certificate. Figures by the Office of National Statistics show some 300 residents died of Covid in the week to March 12. Kim Harrison, public inquiry specialist at solicitors Slater and Gordon, said: “While we mourn those who have died, we have a responsibility as a society to reflect on what has gone wrong, to analyse and plan to prevent such a tragedy occurring again. Future lives depend on us getting this right.”
Deaths in care homes have increased by a fifth over the past year, with almost one in four people who died from Covid-19 in the UK having lived in a care home.
Thousands more suffered from isolation and loneliness during lockdown.
This had a huge impact on the health of residents, many of whom suffer from dementia and rely on family visits to maintain their basic skills. The Daily Express has successfully campaigned for care homes to reopen to visitors and has documented families’ reunions.
But it came too late for thousands who died without being able to hug their loved ones goodbye.
Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, said: “We are in favour of an inquiry, probably as part of a wider review into lessons learned, with a view to ensuring there is no repeat in the future of mistakes made.
Calls are growing for an independent public inquiry
“The decision to send hospital patients to care homes without knowing their Covid status was an egregious error for which unknown numbers paid for with their lives. And delays in getting PPE and testing to care companies left staff and residents with less protection than they were entitled to expect.”
Diane Mayhew, co-founder of the campaign group Rights For Residents, said: “Many have died from sheer loneliness and isolation due to the inhumane and restrictive visiting policies.
“They have been locked away with no meaningful contact with their families for a year and many simply gave up the will to live. A public inquiry is vital.”
Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group, said: “We must have the root and branch reform of social care that we have been promised for so long.”
Comment by Jayne Connery
We want to see lessons learnt from the challenges faced by care homes over the last 12 months.
A public inquiry would guarantee that families and residents would get the chance to ask questions and demand the answers.
Jayne Connery says an inquiry would guarantee families got some answers
We want a review of the impact of official decisionmaking which resulted in the premature death of so many in care homes at the onset of the pandemic.
Families want to know why so many elderly relatives were discharged from hospitals into care homes with the virus. Did they catch it in hospitals and if so, what was NOT being done by hospital staff to protect them?
They also want to know how, if as the Health Secretary stated, “a ring of steel was placed around the care sector”, did so many vulnerable people in homes become ill and disproportionately suffer.
An inquiry would confirm what resources were available for staff to protect both them and residents.
Families could find out why they could not visit and why so many residents died alone and without saying farewell.
Other questions include why inspections by regulators were withdrawn and why tech was not used to do independent reviews remotely to ensure residents were well treated.
Families have so many unanswered questions that require a response.
There are bereaved people who know nothing or very little about the circumstances in which their loved one died.
Others have upsetting photos of their spouses or parents, taken during a window visit or sent by care home staff, showing a drastic deterioration.
But they have had no explanation of that decline.
Many families could not find out why their loved ones died alone
Most families are grateful for all that care workers do.
But many care home owners refused to stop taking hospital admissions despite a lack of testing.
This meant infection was rife and the welfare of residents was sacrificed.
Families also recall limited or no Personal Protective Equipment in those early days.
Far too many homes were also dependent on agency staff apparently working in different locations and providers, which also transmitted infection.
We will continue to campaign for a public inquiry to ensure lessons are learnt, that families have closure and that the sector is better prepared.
• Jayne Connery is the founder of the Care Campaign for the Vulnerable