Just a day after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced that a total of 217 elderly people living in care homes in England and Wales had died from Covid-19 in the period up to 3 April, the CEO of industry group Care England, Professor Martin Green, claimed that in fact the real figure is in excess of 1,400.
And then on 13 April the chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, revealed that 13.5 percent of all care homes in the UK had at least one resident with a confirmed case of the disease, up from 9 percent the previous week, and a total of 92 care homes had reported cases of infection in one 24-hour period.
The massive underreporting of Covid-19 related care home deaths appears to have for its immediate cause the following:
(a) the failure of the management of the rack-renting, privately run care home industry to give adequate training to its underpaid and overworked staff in such an important and sensitive area as the accurate recording of the cause of someone’s death; and
(b) the failure until April of the industry watchdog, the laughably-named Care Quality Commission (CQC), to even bother to ask care homes to clarify which deaths were caused by the virus.
According to the Guardian: “Care home inspectors only started asking if residents were dying from Covid-19 last Thursday [9 April], two and half weeks after the UK went into lockdown and a month after the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic.”
Further: “By law, care homes must promptly report deaths to the CQC, but until last week were not asked whether it was Covid-19 related. A tick-box for confirmed or suspected coronavirus was only added the day before the Easter break, by which time more than 6,000 people had died from the virus in NHS hospitals and hundreds more in care homes.” (UK care home inspectors did not ask about Covid-19 deaths until April by Robert Booth, The Guardian, 15 April 2020)
Meanwhile, as the promised increase in testing fails to materialise, news comes in from a local Somerset newspaper that care homes in the southwestern county are refusing to readmit residents after hospital stays (for whatever reason) unless they have tested negative for Covid-19. (North Somerset care homes refuse to readmit hospital patients unless they get Covid-19 test by Stephen Sumner, Somerset Live, 17 April 2020)
Peter Allen, owner of three homes in north Somerset, told a reporter: “We had a gent who stayed with us for a while who needed regular hospital visits. He was in hospital for a couple of weeks and they asked us to take him back.
“We said he needed to be tested. A few days later he tested positive, and unfortunately, he died over the weekend.
“We couldn’t take the risk of bringing him in. It was a horrendous decision to make.”
Since family visits to care homes have been stopped, the two potential sources of infection are staff members and residents returning from hospital. And given the fact that our hospitals have no ability (lacking both the staff and the equipment needed) to put in place the kind of serious protocols needed to stop a virus from spreading, any care home that is serious about protecting its residents is going to have to do the same.
Whilst the government and the care home industry can be left to pass the buck to each other over who is most responsible for the chaos, what stands starkly revealed is the unspoken (and hotly denied) reality that for capitalism in crisis, the elderly and infirm are a disposable drag on profit-taking, and as such are a worrisome nuisance that are best ignored and forgotten about.
Age UK’s Caroline Abrahams, drawing attention to the fact that the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing had allowed the virus to “run wild” in care homes, spoke the truth when she said: “The current figures are airbrushing older people out like they don’t matter.” (Coronavirus: Around half of Covid-19 deaths are in care homes, Sky News, 14 April 2020)