A staggering 18,000 additional deaths were recorded in English care homes in April by the Office of National Statistics.
That is three times the average for deaths in care homes for the same weeks in the previous five years. But only 8,000 were recorded as being related to Covid-19.
That leaves 10,000 unexplained deaths which, when the Prime Minister was questioned by the new Labour Party Leader Sir Keir Starmer on May 13, he could not shed light on.
The impact of Covid -19 on care home residents either directly or indirectly, through lack of medical care for other conditions, has not been fully recognised. This is reflected in the figures for Staffordshire where there are 30 to 40 excess deaths a week in care homes.
The Government has been astonishingly complacent in its neglect of the care sector. We have been waiting over three years for their promised Green Paper on the future of social care. Patients have been discharged into care homes sometimes without testing, no preparation and inadequate Personal Protective Equipment.
At the start of the lockdown, the Government was even asking Staffordshire County Council for care home vacancies so they could direct patients into care beds centrally.
Thankfully, some sense has prevailed and now directors of public health within local authorities are to be responsible for the testing of staff and residents in care homes.
But as of May 12, the County Council had no idea how this was to happen as no detailed advice had come from the Government.
There appears to be no sense of urgency, despite the much missed target of 100,000 Covid-19 tests a day having been supposedly reached.
Up until March 12th, Government advice was that it remains unlikely that residents would become infected in care homes. How wrong could they be! We sadly saw Covid – 19 spread rapidly through quarantined cruise liners.
Care homes are in a similar position with older people in close proximity to each other and being highly vulnerable to severe infection.
Yet domiciliary care agencies and care homes have struggled to get PPE for staff to protect the people they support and testing is still not happening.
Early in the outbreak, the Government rescinded all NHS debts which was particularly welcome in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire with the second worst health economy in the country. But there was no corresponding pledge to local government despite the undisputed inter- dependency between the NHS and social care. Staffordshire County Council has received £22.3m from the Government with another £15m expected.
But the likely cost of the pandemic to the County Council is £50m. That funding gap could have a devastating impact on the already fragile care sector. Government austerity has left the sector chronically underfunded with three quarters of councils reporting care providers closing down or handing back contracts and 1.4 million older people not receiving the support they need.
This national emergency has demonstrated the importance of our care staff and bust the myth for ever that low pay means low skill and low value.