How Covid panic caused the carnage in care homes

The virus was pushed into care homes in anticipation of a hospital surge that never happened.

Fraser Myers

Has government policy killed people? That has been the question on everyone’s mind since the outbreak of Covid-19. Most of the time, only one policy is considered – did we lock down early enough or hard enough to save lives? But the government’s policy on care homes is likely to be far more significant.

Health secretary Matt Hancock insists that protecting care homes has always been a top priority for the government. ‘Right from the start, we have tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes’, he said at one of last week’s press conferences. Prime minister Boris Johnson made a similar claim in parliament last week: ‘We brought in the lockdown in care homes ahead of the general lockdown.’

It is now abundantly clear that the opposite was true. Contrary to Johnson’s claim, there were no mandatory restrictions on care homes prior to the general lockdown. Indeed, until 12 March, 11 days before the lockdown, Public Health England’s advice was still that ‘it remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home will become infected’.

Worse still, as I reported on spiked last month, rather than protecting care homes from the virus, government policy unwittingly promoted its spread.

One of the key justifications for the lockdown was to ‘Protect the NHS’. Officials feared that the NHS could have been so overrun during the pandemic that it would have collapsed. This would, of course, have been a catastrophe, causing needless deaths. To help prevent this, the NHS exhorted the care sector to play a role in shielding hospitals.

An NHS plan in early March called for the ‘timely discharge’ of patients to free up capacity. Guidance from the Department of Health, issued on 2 April, reiterated this: ‘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.’

Hospitals were ordered to clear thousands of beds in anticipation of a surge in Covid cases. Many patients were sent into care homes. And it is now clear that some of those patients had Covid-19. The 2 April guidance provides the smoking gun: ‘Negative tests are not required prior to transfers / admissions into the care home.’

On top of that, pressure on care homes to take in Covid-19 patients also came from local authorities. According to a Sky News investigation, several councils threatened to withhold funding to care homes if they refused.

Overall, according to a Sky News survey of 90 care homes, 70 per cent of care homes said they felt pressure from hospitals to accept coronavirus patients, 41 per cent said they took in patients with Covid symptoms, and 38 per cent said they believed a Covid-positive patient discharged from hospital caused an outbreak in their home.

This is all despite the fact that care homes hosted the group of people who were by far the most vulnerable to Covid-19. To make matters worse, care homes were also far less prepared for the outbreak than hospitals. An owner of a care-home chain, writing anonymously in The Times, says that two of his or her care homes became infected with Covid-19 which can be traced back to hospital discharges. Once patients were in care homes, the NHS was no longer interested in helping them. The owner received a letter on 13 March which said, ‘If any of our residents got significantly ill, they wouldn’t be allowed into hospital and would have to die in their home’.

Staff were neglected, too. Testing has been shambolic. Even carers with Covid symptoms have struggled to get tested. Results can take nine days to arrive. PPE was also a huge problem initially. The care-home owner writing in The Times claims that supplies were commandeered by the NHS in early March. This neglect has clearly taken its toll. ONS figures show that care staff have been far more likely to die of Covid-19 than regular healthcare workers.

All along, the justification for pushing the crisis into care homes was to prevent the NHS from being overrun. But we can now see that there was no danger of this happening.

Around the peak of hospital cases on 10 April, only 51 per cent of the NHS’s acute beds were occupied by a Covid patient. Around the same time, 41 per cent of acute beds were not occupied at all – more than four times the normal number. The emergency Nightingale hospitals have also been largely empty. The Nightingale in London’s Excel Centre, which had space for 4,000 beds, only treated 51 patients in its first three weeks of operation. It was closed at the beginning of May.

As Professor Carl Henegan, director of Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, has argued, the fact that Covid cases and deaths peaked in early April suggests that the number of people getting infected peaked before the lockdown was introduced on 23 March.

In other words, putting the public under house arrest and wrecking the economy – which has also contributed to thousands of unnecessary deaths – was never necessary to ‘Protect the NHS’ in any case. But by the time the lockdown was introduced, the government was convinced that the NHS faced a tsunami of Covid cases. The infamous Imperial College model predicted 500,000 deaths from an unmitigated epidemic. Fear and panic drove the decision-making. And those decisions cost lives.

Shockingly, the UK government was not alone in pushing the crisis into care homes. In New York, the centre of the world’s worst outbreak, it is a similar story. Care homes were not only neglected for PPE and testing, but were also ordered to take in Covid patients. Homes could be fined $10,000 or lose their operating licence if they refused to comply with the rules. In Lombardy, the hardest-hit region of Italy, care homes were paid extra to take in Covid patients from hospitals.

The carnage in care homes ought to be the biggest scandal of the Covid crisis.

Fraser Myers is a staff writer at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

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Claire D

20th May 2020 at 9:30 am

Just for some perspective :

The percentage of deaths in care homes in other European countries according to Reuters and the Swedish Public Health Agency.

Germany 37%
Spain 66%
France 50%
Belgium 51%
Sweden 48.9%

As from yesterday figures for the UK are approximately 30 – 40%

Claire D

20th May 2020 at 9:35 am

That should be *between* 30% – 40%.

Dodgy Geezer

19th May 2020 at 10:34 pm

There may well be some blame to be apportioned in hindsight. But the critical issue to be addressed (which this article does not) is the timeline.

We were faced with a new virus of unknown capability. We took some precautions, ramping them up as the disease progressed. In retrospect, sacrificing the elderly to save NHS treatment for the young turned out to be wrong – but no one knew this at the time the decision had to be made.

It is right to blame an administration for avoidable errors. But it is wrong to blame them when a critical decision HAS to be made immediately on incorrect data, and it later turns out to be wrong.. .

Question Everythin

19th May 2020 at 11:26 pm

Couldn’t agree more, at the time these decisions were made it was a stark choice between freeing up the NHS in preparation for a tsunami of cases, like the ones seen Italy who’s health service quickly became overrun, or risking it and keeping the NHS running near at normal levels, with exception of out patient care which would’ve been thrown out the window either way.
Even if the NHS kept hold of elderly and vulnerable people who did and didn’t have covid they’d still be at a far greater risk remaining in hospital, the only other option was to move these patients i to the private sector that was taken over by the NHS, this was likley shot down as the predictions for the NHS being unable to cope kept coming.
People can blame the government all they want, people were most certainly going to die whatever decisions they made, whatever advice they listened too. I’d love to know where exactly the advisors giving the advice are and what part they played in this issue. If they’re the ones who pushed the narrative the NHS WILL be overwhelmed and go under, is it any wonder the elderly were sacrificed? As harsh as it is if a government is being told the NHS is going to go under, clear all no essential care NOW, is it any winder they took such a route? What’s more important saving the NHS that provides life extending treatment/surgeries to everyone of all ages, or saving the elderly im care homes?
Until we know exactly what advice the scientists were giving the government (which is essentially given Ferguson’s predictions have been ridiculed by other members of the scientific community), until we know that we can’t begin to understand what drove the government decision making.
I’d also like to know if the like of SAGE and PHE were still using WHO and their data to build their advice, of that’s the case then the bloods on their hands, we all knew WHO had failed when it delayed declaring a global pandemic, which oddly coincides near enough with the change in governments reaction.
Lastly there’s been nowhere near enough debate here in the UK a out the failures of the WHO, the very body designed specifically to detect and manage these exact situations. Why did they delay calling a pandemic? Why were they still saying in mid January there was no human to human transmission? Did the CCP have any part WHO’s decision making and response?
Lastly whilst we should scrutinise our governments response our main focus right now should be the Chinese government, their response, their belt and road initiative, their segregation of black people, the concentration camps of Muslims and above all else their military capabilities. They’re already retaliating against Australia for daring to ask for an independent inquiry. Why aren’t the opposition asking the government what is happening in regards to this on our end given Australia is still technically a British realm, and is our five eyes ally? Given China could retaliate towards the UK aswell? These questions should’ve been asked long before it took another coronavirus and cover up. Instead we’ve been listening and still are the never ending debate of brexit. Maybe if we’d have left way back when we should’ve even things like the 2016 pandemic drill report could’ve been debated and sorted.

Vicki McKerrell

20th May 2020 at 12:16 am

It was known from the very beginning that the elderly and those with underlying health conditions were at the greatest risk of severe impact. The freeing up of hospital space was therefore freed up for the elderly! So why weren’t they given priority?

Neil John

23rd May 2020 at 8:32 pm

Because it wasn’t, it was freed up for those in need with the best chance of recovery and the most to live for, people younger the me as it should be, triage on a national scale.

George Orwell

19th May 2020 at 10:01 pm

There is no doubt that the UK Government has been badly served by the Public Health Executive, the NHS bureaucracy and the Civil Service via the so called ‘experts’. However, those experts did point out early on that quarantining such huge numbers was impossible, that thermal testing equipment was ineffective where the asymptomatic incubation period is up to 14 days and that the shortage of full tests meant that all those available were needed by the NHS as a priority. It was estimated that the proportion of incoming people who were infected was then so low as to have little effect on the anticipated total of internal community driven infections arising from those who had already arrived before the potential scale of the problem became known globally. In other words, it was already too late for the UK to adopt Jo’s proposed solution for Australia.
That said, there is still some logic in imposing quarantine rules now whilst other nations have a larger pool of the virus than does the UK. If other nations are now relaxing their quarantines then they risk reinfection from abroad. The lower the infection rates in the UK become, the higher the risk of the declining community transmissions being reinvigorated by people from outside. That is the opposite scenario to that which pertained early on.
It seems that the proposed restrictions will be somewhat nuanced to take account of the current position in the nations from which the flights emanate.
However, there are some odd features of the infection patterns that suggest everyone is still operating mainly on guesswork.
The London Underground did not lead to a disastrous spread from London to the suburbs. The virus was not transmitted beyond a small group of passengers on a flight carrying former cruise ship passengers. The drivers of buses in the UK delivering those infected passengers to quarantine were unaffected despite having no visible PPE. It is also odd how few members of Government became infected by Johnson and some of his colleagues. I suspect there will be some surprises concerning the primary methods of transmission.
The UK may have a high number of deaths in absolute terms but not so much as in terms of total population and the UK is probably over rigorous in attributing deaths to Covid 19 where the deceased was already in receipt of a terminal diagnosis from other illnesses.
Furthermore the NHS and the care home system has kept many of our old and frail alive way beyond the ‘normal’ expectation by global standards. It is not surprising that many of them would be lost to a new virus that preferentially attacks the old and frail.
Note too, that the projection was for deaths in the range of 250,000 to 500,000 if no action was taken and there is some evidence that it was the modest changes to personal hygiene a week before the lockdown that had the primary effect on flattening the curve rather than the lockdown itself. Why is it not recognised that the UK Government was successful in reducing the deaths by so much, by avoiding the overwhelming of health services and in ramping up PPE provision, new treatment methods and testing regimes at a dramatic pace once the virus revealed the weakness in the systems which this Government inherited just a few months ago.

Jolly Roger

19th May 2020 at 8:54 pm

I’m a bit surprised at the amount of people here trying to cut Johnson and the Gov some slack – they deserve none.
I voted for him, I’ve voted Tory since thirty odd years ago, so no, I don’t hate Johnson and it pains me to say this…
The facts here are plain – Johnson did all of the wrong thngs at the very begining of this fiasco – not just a few bum notes – all bum notes. He didn’t curtail flights into the country or quarantine people flying in – even, incredibly, from Wuhan itself (he wants to do that now, nearly three months later to destroy the airlines and the tourist industry apparently..); he didn’t stop major sports events, horse racing, theatre, gigs etc; which common sense dictated he should and now research proves he should; he didn’t focus on protecting the vulnerable – instead he locked everyone down, copying Italy (Italy!) and focused on ‘Save the NHS’ – whilst the NHS then pumped elderly Covid infected patients back into the care homes, sentencing many residents to death at a stroke.
All of Johnsons decisions were based on a combination of percieved political advantage (sucking up to the Red Wall) and fear. He completely lost his bottle when Professor Ferguson – who should have been exposed quickly by simple google search as a card carrying failure and certifiable idiot with form – issued his ridiculous 500,000 deaths claim.
And here we are heading toward three months in house arrest and not only has Ferguson been exposed and discredited as an idiot with a model stuffed with 20 year old code that works diffently on different computers, but Johnson is now trying to enact measures that should have been taken three months ago if they were ever to be effective. He is scared of admitting he made a mistake and so perpetuates the myth of this ‘lethal to all’ virus as he wrecks the country – literally. Johnson is weak and completely in over his head – cometh the hour cometh the…oh dear.

George Orwell

19th May 2020 at 7:03 pm

What would the author of this piece have said if those patients remained in the NHS and blocked beds needed for younger Covid 19 patients who then died from lack of care.
Can’t have it both ways.
Furthermore, most sick elderly folk nearing death for whatever reason prefer to expire in familiar surroundings rather than in a hospital.
Then there is the point that care homes are supposed to have their own infection control procedures and equipment and would have been aware that some of those coming back might have the virus.
So it is not as clear cut as the author tries to make out.
Anyway, didn’t I hear that about 27% of our deaths were in care homes whereas it is around 50% for other nations?

Neil John

23rd May 2020 at 8:24 pm

The GWR owners and managers have been cutting costs for maximum profit for years in most cases, many staff have to work shifts in several just to make ends meet which leads to faster spread of infections. Now their cash cow ‘customers’ have been dying faster than they can replace them they’ve been exposed, and many families are starting to consider that dumping older family members into them may not be such a good idea.
The NHS had lots of things to consider, could they cope if things went as badly as was being predicted, would pouring resources into the black hole that elderly patients could become actually do any good, especially if it meant those younger that might survive didn’t. If you’ve ever seen the violence to the body involved in mechanical ventilation, which can easily kill the frail, you might understand why many doctors prefer not to do it to the elderly. And finally a peaceful death in familiar surroundings is preferred by many, the ‘old mans friend’ has finished off untold numbers for years, how many died WITH not from the CCP virus where they preferred to be…

Steve Roberts

19th May 2020 at 6:38 pm

This is journalism of the highest order, but not because Myers has necessarily been out in the field discovering , digging for information no one has has managed to unearth.
It is so much more than that, we are still in the storm of a serious created social crisis, it is now when serious journalists and commentators make their mark, show leadership qualities and bravery,not those that choose to hide, to “reflect” with bland non judgementalism from the comfort zone of the media world they inhabit, many of them patsy’s or overfamiliar with the establishment,fence sitters when the opposite is required,a lot of the latter are now crawling out of the woodwork , sensing a changing of the way the wind is blowing.
But back to this article by Myers, he has collated a lot of evidence from various sources, in two articles now about an extremely worrying matter, lets not beat about the bush, we are discussing a pre meditated policy of the state that has resulted in thousands of unnecessary deaths, and not only that but most of those people dying without family members able to be there in their last hours , that is inhumane especially while the government are bleating about saving lives.
But what Myers has done is what no one else has, he has made a judgement, drawn a conclusion from all the disparate evidence out in the wide world, no equivocation, he has made it clear what has happened and published it for all to see.
And it must be remembered we are in a very authoritarian situation at the moment, the government now stand accused of a very serious matter on a large scale, this was not just a mistake.
One can only admire Myers for writing this and be prepared to support him and Spiked if the censorship that abounds at the moment is unleashed in this case. Full respect to Myers and Spiked for this, absolutely brilliant.

Russ Wood

19th May 2020 at 3:59 pm

I don’t know about countries other than the UK, but as far as South Africa is concerned, the hospitals are empty, and have been protected at the expense of just about ALL hospital-level medical treatment.

Claire D

19th May 2020 at 2:56 pm

It is going to be easy to look back with the benefit of hindsight and see where the government made mistakes, but remember, when hospitals returned patients who were convalescing to care homes, in order to free up hospital beds, no one knew what was going to happen next. The interaction between coronavirus and our community was, and still largely is, an unknown quantity. Perhaps on the whole the decision was still the right one, or, the one with the most potential at the time, to be the right one.

James Knight

19th May 2020 at 2:48 pm

Where was the media when this was happening? It seems to be like the Daily Mirror journalists not noticing Maxwell was filching the pensions. But in this case they were too busy screaming for a blanket lockdown or shaming people sun bathing in the park to notice that the NHS was “seeding” covid19 in care homes.

Linda Payne

19th May 2020 at 2:25 pm

This is so appalling its beyond words. Elderly care has always been seen as the fag end of the NHS even though most in patients are over 65. I trained in the early 80’s and if you ended up being offered ‘geriatrics’ after you trained other nurses felt sorry for you, it was also where mainly black nurses ended up as they were trained on mass as SEN’s, they were running these wards often particularly heavy work and particularly short staffed, our consultant was an alcoholic who was found slumped in the corridoor on one occasion . There have been some improvements in the stifling ‘ward routine’ in elderly care wards and treatments have advanced but now they are called ‘bed blockers’ waiting for a care home placement and they could be months waiting especially if they are not self funded. What has happened is a scandal it goes against basic human care and compassion, I think heads should roll

Jonathan Palmer

19th May 2020 at 1:58 pm

It was as much an NHS decision as anything; remember that when you’re clapping.

David Margison

19th May 2020 at 1:57 pm

The press, the media the NHS, government and opposition parties and finaly the over represented london lovies are to blame for this debacle. So called intelligent people who in reality have not one iota of common sense between them, forced the sheeple with rushed new laws into hiding like cowards. Anyone who dared to disent was castigated and ostracized.
The government have shouted “wolf”! What on earth are they going to do if a real plague hits us?

steve moxon

19th May 2020 at 5:16 pm

Exactly. And it’ll come.
There’ll be waves of this virus and its variants, which will sweep through the populace sooner or later anyway.
It’s only a matter of time that the massive target for lurgis of super-closely-inter-connected six billion juicy fatties is going to be raided by a succession of ever nastier bugs. ‘Black Death’ revisited is well on the cards.
Still, making such a total pig’s ear of a pretty harmless virus surely provides incentive for preparing for something rather more serious, surely.
Pulling out the lens to wider considerations, it’s not altogether a bad thing that our over-population may well be about to be cut in half. That will only restore the earth’s human population to the sort of level it was when I first crawled on its surface. And Greta Thunderpants will sulk perhaps even before the grand solar minimum has made anthropogenic climate change nonsense a laughing stock.

Vicki McKerrell

20th May 2020 at 12:45 am

These corona viruses are a product of human mismanagement. The entire world shut down because of a failure to shut down a localised live animal trade. It’s literally ‘bat shit crazy’.

Kathryn Barbara

19th May 2020 at 1:36 pm

So very tired of this “protect the nhs mantra”. I divide the nhs into 2 sections, hospitals and primary practice. I see hospitals carry the crisis load, and the primary practices the non-crisis Medicine. However, the primary care is not that great, certainly not preventative in focus, and in recent years it is getting harder to get to see a doctor (let alone the same doctor for continuity of care). And the doctors in primary care are very well paid. I do think also that many female doctors see it as the perfect way to work part time and have a family and earn a good wage. But it is hard building a good service on part-timers alone. Practices need to develop for their communities needs and not the NHS’s priorities.

steve moxon

19th May 2020 at 12:38 pm

This is right.
EVERY facet of this insane over-reaction is appalling.
Public Health England needs to be euthanised, along with NHS top management.
Such is the incompetence all round, the authorities still cannot grasp that some strains of this virus were in England well before the end of last year.
It’s not just that preparations were effectively nil, but there was useless response, with no sign of any effort to adapt, and not even any idea of how to deal with evidence.
It is beyond woeful, revealing just how unfit for purpose is our entire governmental apparatus, with its seemingly built-in scientific illiteracy and absence of even common-sense.

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