Boris Johnson is facing mounting criticisms of his government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis in our care homes. Preet Kaur Gill, the MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, has been speaking with care homes in her constituency who tell of pressures to accept Covid-19 patients from hospitals, continued problems in procuring essential PPE, and issues with accessing tests for staff and residents.

Preet Gill said:

“There is an ongoing crisis in our care homes. The Prime Minister promised to get a grip of this, but several months into this crisis and there are still huge problems with testing, PPE and very high death rates in care homes.

“The government has been too slow in protecting people in care homes, too slow on testing and too slow on protective equipment.

“The care homes I’ve spoken to in my constituency tell me that they feel pressured to receive discharged patients from hospital who are known to be Covid-19 positive, or who are still awaiting test results.

“They tell me that PPE is still not making its way to them. Over 70% of the care homes I’ve spoken to in my constituency have told me they have either run out, or are running dangerously low, of one or more items of PPE.

“Many have told me that they are still struggling to access tests, and when tests are arranged, the results can take between 7-14 days to come back, well beyond the government’s 48-hour target. Efforts to reach the daily testing target are in vain if the results are not shared in time for appropriate action to be taken.

“In April, the government promised us that they would test all care home residents and staff and yet this week they said this could not be guaranteed until next month. Those living and working in care homes are crying out for tests and we cannot afford to delay it any longer.”

At the beginning of April, Preet Gill wrote to the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, to raise her serious concerns about the support available for care homes during this crisis. In her letters and Parliamentary Questions to the Department for Health and Social Care, Preet Gill raised the alarm about care homes not being given a choice about accepting Covid-19 positive patients discharged from hospital, and the inadequate government guidance given to care homes.

In her letter, Preet Gill said:

“The epidemic has taken a further toll on our capacity to care for our most vulnerable, with c. 30% of staff off ill or self-isolating in one home I have talked to. Already, homes have too few staff to too many people to look after, with too many of them on end of life care. If this is not even the peak of this crisis, then this is already deeply troubling.

“The fear from frontline staff I have spoken to is palpable. In these homes everyone is vulnerable on account of their age, and a majority with underlying conditions too. Staff except that if one person contracts Covid-19, it will spread through their homes like wildfire. Many have already had scares. Some care homes have been reluctant to let those residents who are in and out of hospital return, but due to lack of capacity they have been instructed that have no choice.”

In her letter, Preet Gill also raised the alarm over inadequate government guidance, highlighting the advice that staff without PPE are not required to self-isolate even after coming into contact with someone with Covid-19:

“With the new guidance published on 2nd April, we have now learnt that even residents with confirmed cases would have to be taken back, thus risk infecting staff and other residents alike, and putting greater strain on an already stretched service. How can this policy be responsible when adequate training and PPE hasn’t even been rolled out in many homes? Indeed, with the guidance issued this week, carers who come into contact with someone with Covid-19 while not wearing PPE are not even necessarily required to self-isolate. How can standards be so low in a setting with people who are so vulnerable?”

ONS statistics show 8,312 deaths in care homes in England and Wales up to 1st May, up from 5,890 the previous week. In yesterday’s PMQs the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, asked the Prime Minister to explain why there were 18,000 more deaths in April than on average, and urged him to account for those 10,000 unexplained deaths in care homes.