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The appalling death rate in care homes should never be forgotten

Thinking about writing this week’s blog I began with a feeling of optimism that we were seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and talk of how we may exit the lockdown. After all, medical experts now claim that the death rate from Covid-19 has reached its peak. Mat Hancock (Health Minister) has with some massaging of the figures reached his target of 100,000 tests per day, and the government is getting its head around ways of easing the lockdown.

However, my mind turned back to the situation at the beginning of the week when the government was being besieged by care home providers and the media to do something about the alarming death rates in care homes.

National Care Forums

I recall Vic Rayner, the National Care Forums executive director, saying: “By highlighting the scale of the tragedy, we are giving the government an opportunity to respond with equal effort. It must act immediately and build a ‘ring of steel’ around care homes. They need the right PPE (personal protective equipment), medical monitoring devices, rapid and comprehensive testing, proper funding and intensive research to safeguard the people they care for.”

She added: “Our current national debate on how to mitigate and exit this crisis is virtually entirely centred on the management of the peak within hospitals. We are overlooking how this crisis is playing out in other settings, which are there to protect those who are most vulnerable to the impact of the virus. If we truly believe that every life has value, there can be no meaningful discussions about exit strategies without considering these individuals.”

The Governments flawed strategy

From the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Governments strategy has focused upon the protection of NHS frontline workers at all costs to the exclusion of others. No consideration was given to the plight of staff and residents in care homes and homecare staff.

Providers of care home services will surely never forget the initial guidance from Public Health England “residents in care homes are unlikely to be affected by the Corona Virus”.

The Government neglected to pay attention to the most vulnerable in our society and those who care for them. Cry’s from managers and staff for PPE (personal protective equipment) and testing of residents and staff, fell upon deaf ears. There was no equality of effort here, given the massive worldwide shortage of PPE the first priority was the NHS.

Care workers did not have the luxury let alone the protection that could be gained from having the proper coveralls, visors and masks. They were left to do and mend, purchasing their own plastic aprons and masks.

Reporting of death rates in care homes

On of the most startling ambiguities in the reporting of deaths by the government was the omission of the number of people who died in care homes. Given that a number of European countries including, Germany and France have always included care homes in their reported death rates, why did the Government focus its attention solely on deaths in hospitals?

Initially, people we were told that this was because it was easier to obtain the NHS death rates as it is a single entity, whereas care homes are a disparate group.

To those working in social care, this sounds like utter nonsense. We all know that regulations state that every care home provider must report deaths to the CQC, who surely would have collated this information.

The question needs to be asked what was the reason for the delay? The figures are now being reported following ongoing pressure from the media and the alarming growth in death rates.


History will show that this Government failed the social care sector and neglected the needs of the most vulnerable in our society. Failure to provide PPE and testing has had a devasting effect on the moral of those who work in care homes and care in the community. Staff were distraught with the appalling death rates. In the future one will be reminded of what one care provider said ‘we were like lambs being led to the slaughter’. Thoughts echoed by many.

Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy

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