Covid-19 ‘ravaged’ care homes after they were ‘effectively thrown to the wolves’ during the pandemic, cross-party MPs have said.
Advising hospitals in England to discharge around 25,000 hospital patients into care homes without testing them for Covid-19 was an ‘appalling error’ and ‘reckless’, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report published today stated.
It also said that the advice, made to free up hospital beds, continued ‘even once it was clear there was an emerging problem’ and typified the Government’s ‘slow, inconsistent and at times negligent’ approach to social care.
The report highlighted that the pandemic had exposed the ‘tragic impact’ of ‘years of inattention, funding cuts and delayed reforms’, leaving social care as a ‘poor relation’ to the NHS.
It also said there had been a lack of transparency around the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) with a tendency for the Government to ‘overpromise and under deliver’.
Testing should have been made to social care staff and hospital patients ‘much more quickly’, it added.
Hospitals were asked to discharge patients in March but were not required to test them until mid-April, and the Government only made testing available to all social care staff and residents in May.
This is despite Public Health England reporting that it was aware of asymptomatic transmission as early as the end of March.
The committee’s recommendations to the Government included launching a review into which care homes received discharged patients and how many subsequently had outbreaks.
They also urged the Government to release details of what will be done to ensure the needs of social care are given as much weight as those of the NHS going forward.
Committee chair Meg Hillier MP said: ‘Our care homes were effectively thrown to the wolves, and the virus has ravaged some of them.’
She added: ‘We weren’t prepared for the first wave. Putting all else aside, Government must use the narrow window we have now to plan for a second wave. Lives depend upon getting our response right.’
From March to May, around 5,900 care homes – equivalent to 38% of care homes across England – reported at least one outbreak.