NPC GS tells People’s Covid Inquiry that care funding cuts may have impacted badly on scale of tragedy
Years of government funding cuts and neglect of the UK care sector meant it was tragically unprepared for the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
National Pensioners’ Convention General Secretary Jan Shortt made the claim in a scathingly “excoriating testimony on the gross failures of the government in letting down at risk groups” to the second session of the People’s Covid Inquiry (10 March).
Jan told the Inquiry panel: “Before the pandemic hit, the NHS and care sector were really struggling. Our organisation and others, including academics, have been begging the government to properly reform and fund social care. But the government has not been listening.
“We cannot say none of this would have happened if they had, but they would have been in a lot better position to deal with it, had the health sector had enough staff, enough money and enough resources like Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). It is not true (as the Health Secretary recently said) that the sector had everything it needed – staff were using bin bags and sharing masks to try and protect themselves.”
With the United Kingdom currently recording more than 125,000 Covid-19 deaths - 188.3 per 100,000 – it now has the highest rate of Coronavirus fatality per head of population in the world. Around 25% of those deaths occurred in UK care homes.
The People's Covid Inquiry - under the auspices of Keep Our NHS Public - will examine the Government’s overall Covid-19 strategy. For example, how it controlled the spread of infection, the timing and extent of ‘lockdowns’ and their impact on case numbers, as well as the implications for death rates. The Inquiry has no legal powers but has gathered a panel of health experts to follow Public Inquiry format to question witnesses providing evidence. The findings will be presented to the government who are deferring a full Public Inquiry until the pandemic is over. This has led to fears that delaying the Inquiry, also delays access to vital information that might save lives now.
Dr John Puntis, Co-Chair of Keep Our NHS Public who introduced the session, said: “We are here to ask, ‘was the scale of the tragic loss of life in the UK during the pandemic avoidable?’ We all deserve to know why this happened.”
Commenting on Jan’s evidence to the session, his Co-Chair, Dr Tony O’Sullivan, said: “Jan Shortt gave excoriating testimony on the gross failures of the Government in letting down at risk groups, including so many people in care homes or receiving domiciliary care. She shocked the panel when they heard the Government does not even acknowledge receipt of NPC letters to Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock. She spoke of blanket use of ‘Do Not Resuscitate Orders’ and older people discharged from hospital to the care homes without coronavirus test clearance. A shocking testimony revealing a total disregard for the safety and care of such a large section of the population. We know 38,000 care home residents died from Covid. Our Inquiry is exploring what mistakes were made and why. It is not too late to learn lessons that can save lives. It is too late sadly to avoid the carnage of the last 12 months.”
Michael Mansfield is chairing the Inquiry, and panel members included Professor Neena Modi, Dr Tolullah Oni, Dr Jacky Davis, and Lorna Hackett, Barrister (Counsel to the Inquiry). The witnesses for the session, aside from Jan, were: Lobby (Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice), Professor Sir David King (independent-SAGE), and Dr Helen Salisbury (GP, Oxford).
The Inquiry will make international comparisons and attempt to understand the underlying drivers for the decisions made in the UK. For example, Professor Sir David King provided evidence on how Greece and South Korea followed World Health Organisation rules from the beginning, and suffered deaths numbering the hundreds as opposed to the hundreds of thousands.
Jan gave evidence on how the care system – and crucially care homes - were weakened prior to the pandemic: “At least £16bn has been taken out of care funding over the years. So, you can see why care homes are short staffed, and a lot of the staff – not their fault - are not qualified or paid to do what is a hugely responsible job.
“We currently have a fragmented care system, run by individual private and local authority care home providers, many of whom were already struggling before the pandemic hit.
“(As we know), when it hit, older people were sent into hospital because they were very poorly. But we then found they were being issued with blanket DNRs – Do Not Resuscitate notices - a huge infringement of their basic human rights.
“They weren’t able to talk to family, or an advocate if they didn’t have a family, to allow them to understand and discuss what it would mean to sign this piece of paper, which has life changing implications.”
The NPC is currently campaigning for a fully funded, independent National Care Service, free at the point of use, like – and working in tandem with - the NHS.
In her evidence, Jan said: “Boris Johnson told us that the Government was putting ‘a ring of steel’ around care homes, and we thought what does that mean? Well, it meant nothing actually. Older people were discharged to care homes without any testing for Covid, allowing the virus to rage through those homes, whose residents are now 25pc of the total number of deaths in the UK.”
You can watch the video of the full session here (Jan’s evidence starts at: 01.26.15) - https://www.facebook.com/keepournhspublic/videos/150729113568314
The next session of the People’s Covid Inquiry is at 7pm on Wednesday 24 March. You can find out more and register to attend here:
NPC Policy Statement on the Rights of Older People, their Health & Wellbeing.
‘Older people are individual citizens who deserve to be valued for their contribution to society. We deserve to be listened to, believed, respected and treated with dignity regardless of our characteristics on all issues related to access to, and provision of, services that enable a better quality of life, health and well-being.’
You can download the press release below