They often say that a week is along time in politics, but this week to the politicians and health experts charged with nations fight against COVID-19 it must seem like an eternity. The opening of the box revealing the real situation in care homes, the shortage of personal protective equipment PPE and the lamentable progress in testing are proving challenging to the government.
I would suggest that the situation is being exacerbated by a reliance on public relations (academic spin), and the increasing gap between what is being promised and actual delivery.
I would agree with most people that this is not the time for the blame game, because we may not be in full possession of all the facts, but it is also our duty to learn from mistakes that are being made.
Let us consider the following:
Since the outset of the pandemic the governments central focus has been the protection of the NHS at all costs. By and large social care was left to fend for itself. Eventually, the government was forced to take action following constant pressure from the press and social media highlighting the number of deaths in care homes.
The government’s position was the difficulty in obtaining accurate figures. Yet after three weeks into the lockdown they decided to ask the CQC to obtain the information. The obvious question is why this could not have been done sooner. Given that care homes are bound by law to report every single death to the CQC.
There is also a wide discrepancy on the number of deaths recorded by the government some 1500 and those collated by the National Care Forum which amount to nearer 4000.
Personal Protective Clothing (PPE)
There is no doubt that there is a worldwide shortage of PPE. But the problem has not been helped by a supply chain that relies on China and Turkey to keep our services going. Again, the government have been slow to take action. Only recently have they turned their attention to our own clothing manufactures including: Burberry and Barbours. Nor, have they taken up the offer of smaller companies to supply the clothing.
Not so long ago, the government’s position was that there was no problem with the supply of PPE, it was just a problem of distribution. This was never the case, and the government has now been forced to hold its hand up, acknowledging the problem.
Because of the dire situation we are now seeing Public Health England prepared to lower best practice standards in nursing protection and I assume social carers too, by asking staff to wash their uniforms and reuse them. Medical and nursing staff believe this presents a risk to patients, themselves and their families.
To say the least, the government has dragged its feet in testing people in England. We still have the lowest testing regime in Europe, and we are still testing only just over 21000 people per day. Even though we currently have laboratory testing capacity for 30000 tests. The promise by Mat Hancock (Health Minister) to increase testing to 100000 per day now seems little more than a pipe dream.
This is most alarming, because not only does it have a bearing on those who use and work in health and social care services, it is seen as a pillar criterion for getting us out of the lockdown.
The government and its medical advisors are faced with a monumental task in times never experienced before in our lifetime. Regardless of the governments performance it would be folly to turn to the blame game at a time when it is essential that we all pull together.
However, there is no doubt in my mind that mistakes have been made and that we all have a duty to learn from. History will show that the government’s strategy for supporting care homes and homecare to be little short of scandalous. The shortage of PPE should have been acknowledged much earlier and not hidden as a problem of distribution. The ability to carry out 100000 tests per day should not have been made as a promise but as an aspiration.
We are seeing a gap between the government’s PR machine and its promises, and the lack of delivery on the ground which if continued may well lead to a gradual erosion of confidence in the government. What we need is more straight talking, and a strategy that puts the NHS and providers of social care services on an equal footing.
Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy