I took part in a podcast on Sky News for Adam Boulton’s All Out Politics. I was with the editor of politics.co.uk, Ian Dunt, with whom I had appeared earlier that morning on Sky’s review of the newspaper opinion pages, and Sky’s people in politics correspondent, Nick Martin. You can listen to the podcast either by clicking here or below.
We were discussing the political aspects of the Covid-19 crisis and the blame game now under way over the dreadful death rate in care homes. Nick Martin, who has been doing front-line reporting on that situation, spoke at length about the situation he had found in those homes.
What he reported was so profoundly horrifying that I am reproducing here an edited transcript of what he said. It’s not just the shocking incompetence and worse of both the government and the NHS bureaucracy. After you have digested Nick’s account, you might like to consider those people who have been asserting that “the vast majority” of those who have died from the virus were “very old and would have died soon anyway”, and whether those people who’ve been making such a claim are individuals from whom you want to hear anything ever again.
TRANSCRIPT: On February 25 they were saying that care homes really shouldn’t have to do anything different to what they normally do. And that’s because at the time the government and Public Health England believed that there wasn’t community transmission, and so they were saying that it’s unlikely that Coronavirus will get into care homes and it’s unlikely to affect elderly residents. Now that guidance was in place until March 13. Now by then they’re already 798 confirmed cases in the UK, and in the middle of that period we already thought that there was community transmission. So there is an argument that very early on the government guidance was starting to lag behind the reality.
What you’ve got to remember is a lot of care homes are intrinsically linked to the NHS. They have contracts with the NHS for step down beds, overflow beds, Intermediate care beds, and so many of them were under intense pressure to accept discharges from hospital as part of their national effort in freeing up capacity in the NHS.
There’s no obligation to test people going into care homes, which was just, you know, fueling the flames of the infection rates in care homes. And we talked about this being in the past. But, you know, today I’ve been talking to care home managers who say this very day, this morning, they’re getting pressure from hospital consultants to say, well, you take this patient, and the care home says, “Have they got a test?” “Yes, they were tested 10 days ago”. They’re saying, that’s not good enough; we need a negative test if we’re going to admit this resident into the care homes.
Then you’ve got family on the phone, you’ve got MPs getting involved, intense pressure today for care homes to accept patients when they’re not really sure of their Covid status. Then you’ve got testing capacity; the government official line to this day is that everyone in social care should have access to tests. We’re hearing time and time again that that’s not happening regardless of symptoms.
And so care homes are really wringing their hands today suggesting that they are still feeling this intense pressure to take patients when there is a risk that they don’t know whether they’ve got Covid-19. And to spend a day in a care home yesterday, which is one of the kind of 60 odd percent that have remained Covid free – not, they say, because the government threw around a protective ring, but because they fended off the requests from the NHS to accept patients when they didn’t know what their Covid status was. And tomorrow we have a really troubling report, which suggests that documentation may have been altered to ease that discharge from hospitals, to care homes (my emphasis).
Even in the last few weeks when there has been capacity in hospitals, I’ve heard firsthand reports of people being denied medical treatment. So there was a lady in a care home in Liverpool two weeks ago who was struggling to breathe, Covid-19 positive, desperate for oxygen. They put the GP on the iPad. The consultant at the hospital said we cannot accept you into the hospital, you will not get hospital treatment, you are going to die in this care home in the next few hours. And their family had to wait outside, watch through the window as she died.
Now she was very clearly according to these reports, denied medical treatment, and this strays into areas of deprivation of liberty, which I think goes beyond the argument that the NHS has to make decisions all the time and prioritise. This strays into completely different territory where people are being denied medical treatment, not because the hospitals are full – because they’re not – but for some other reason, which one day, we’ll get to the bottom of. So it’s not about necessarily as clear cut as saying, We’ve got to make priorities, let’s save people who’ve got a life ahead of them and sacrifice the elderly. This was really about black and white issues of depriving people of medical treatment at a time that they that needed it, or could have been afforded the right to die with dignity even.
The first man I saw die in a care home was John in Sheffield. He had been in hospital. He’d been discharged home; he’d had a fall. He’d gone into hospital and then he’d been sent to the care home in a kind of normal way that he would be sent to recuperate. He then contracted Covid-19. I saw him one day; he was talking to the nurses. The next day he could hardly breathe and he died. And I saw that on a few occasions. These weren’t people who had spent years in care homes who were suffering from dementia and had zero quality of life. These often were people who had just spent a few weeks in a care home to recuperate from hospital treatment, contracted Covid-19 because it was running through the wards at frantic pace, and died in a care home without any medical treatment. I mean, I’m sorry to say that a lot of people were just gasping for breath and had nothing in the way of any medical support other than a hand to hold from a carer who had to talk to them as they’ve died. No oxygen, yes.