How the lockdown fuelled the care-homes crisis
The NHS has been discharging patients who may still have Covid back into care homes. This is madness.
The daily death figures from hospitals have dominated the news headlines and the government’s press briefings during Britain’s coronavirus crisis so far. Mercifully, those figures have been in decline for some time now. The peak of hospital deaths was passed on 8 April – three weeks ago.
Indeed, the passing of the hospital peak has led some experts, like Professor Carl Heneghan, director of Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, to argue that the number of infections was dropping considerably before the government introduced the lockdown. Despite this, the government insists that the lockdown is working to reduce deaths and that any loosening of the restrictions could, in the words of first secretary of state Dominic Raab, ‘undo that hard work’.
But the story emerging from care homes suggests that this ‘hard work’ may have been in vain. At the same time as the public has been placed under virtual house arrest – at an enormous social, health and economic cost – the number of deaths in care homes has soared. As of yesterday, the daily death figures now include those who die in care homes and in the community, which accounts for the rapidly rising proportion of Covid-related deaths.
‘Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’, became the lockdown mantra. But in reality, the key goal of the lockdown has always been to ‘protect the NHS’. On one level, this makes sense. An overrun hospital system would be a disaster, causing needless fatalities. But attempts to keep NHS beds free have had brutal and deadly consequences, too.
In order to clear beds, government guidance, published in early April, made clear that care homes would be expected to pick up the slack: ‘Hospitals around the country need as many beds as possible to support and treat an increasing number of Covid-19 cases. This means the NHS will seek to discharge more patients into care homes for the recovery period.’
What’s more, this guidance explicitly covered patients who had contracted Covid-19: ‘If an individual has… tested positive for Covid-19 but is no longer showing symptoms and has completed their isolation period, then care should be provided as normal.’ To underscore the point, it makes clear that, ‘Negative tests are not required prior to transfers / admissions into the care home’.
In other words, the NHS has been happily discharging patients who may still be infected with Covid-19 into care homes. These patients have then been able to pass on the infection to other elderly residents, sometimes via carers who are working with inadequate PPE and visiting multiple sites. Professor Heneghan tells the Science Media Centre that the policy amounts to putting ‘a person with an active infection into a home setting where other people are in significant numbers and are vulnerable’.
GP Dr Malcolm Kendrick has called this the ‘anti-lockdown strategy’. ‘The entire nation has been locked down. Do not travel, stay two metres apart, do not go outside blah, blah. Meanwhile, we have the perfect anti-lockdown policy in place for the very people we are mostly supposed to be protecting’, he writes. It is a ‘system perfectly designed to spread Covid among the vulnerable elderly population’.
But the obscenity of the situation does not end there. Not only are care-home residents being infected by Covid-19, partly as a result of government policy, but they are also dying at greater rates from things other than coronavirus – again, thanks to government policy.
As spiked has previously argued, the lockdown is contributing to all kinds of non-Covid deaths, particularly because people who have potentially serious health problems are staying away from hospitals in an effort to ‘protect the NHS’. Thousands of operations have been cancelled. Heart attacks and cancers are going undetected. And an estimated 40,000 hospital beds are empty – more than four times the number that we would expect at this time of year.
This problem is becoming particularly acute in care homes. Office for National Statistics figures show a growing number of care-home deaths from 3 April onwards, but only a proportion of these were caused by coronavirus. HC One, the UK’s biggest care-home provider, told the Telegraph that the death rate among its 17,500 residents was around three times last year’s, but only half of those additional deaths are linked to Covid-19.
The carnage in our care homes was not inevitable. It is a direct product of the monomaniacal focus on locking down at all costs, and on clearing the decks of the NHS for a surge that never arrived. Fear and panic have been driving decision-making. And now we have a situation in which we have protected the healthy from a disease that poses little threat to them and exposed the most vulnerable to a disease that could kill them.
This madness cannot go on.
Fraser Myers is a staff writer at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.
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