Over 12,000 deaths have been recorded by the UK Government, as a result of COVID- 19. However, the daily statistics are only covering verified hospital deaths as of the date that these are released. Unfortunately, this has left a large number of deaths unaccounted for; those in high-risk environments such as care homes.
It is essential that the most vulnerable groups in society are cared for, and this includes those living in care homes. Care homes are environments which pose a high threat of contracting the virus, due to the fact that they host elderly residents, some of whom are likely to have underlying health issues and have weakened immune systems. Residents were also at heightened risk before the UK lockdown began, due to care homes having a stream of visitors such as various staff and visitors that constantly enter and leave the premises.
Furthermore, the essential workers within care homes, such as cooks and carers, have to maintain social distancing and risk their lives in order to keep caring for the residents. Social workers and healthcare staff who previously were paying frequent visits to care homes across the country are now limited to work remotely, meaning there is more pressure on the in-home carers to fulfil a multitude of responsibilities. Many of these key workers were working extensive hours for low pay before COVID- 19, due to social cuts made by the Government and enacted by local governments. As charity Age UK highlight, there has been a “£160 million cut in total public spending on older people’s social care” even though statistics show that our population is living longer and therefore ageing, resulting in a rapid demand for social care. The social care system has been stretched and strained for years, and there is no doubt that the pandemic will cause further damage.
As reported by The BBC, the Government have recently promised that all care home residents and staff with COVID- 19 symptoms will be tested as laboratory capacity increases. Reportedly, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was “determined” to ensure that those in need of tests have access to them. The BBC say that there have been outbreaks at more than 2,000 care homes.
This move by the Government comes after it was revealed that the daily statistics that are shared with the public have not been a representation of the full picture, sadly, missing out completely the deaths within the community and in care homes. As of 15th April 2020, the UK coronavirus verified deaths came to a total of 12,868.
The Guardian recently reported that two of the largest care home providers in the UK have reported the deaths of 521 residents. HC- One, which operates around 350 homes, told the Guardian that as of 8pm on Monday 13th April, there had been “311 deaths from confirmed or suspected COVID- 19.” They also reported outbreaks in two thirds of their homes. Another operator, MHA, reported 210 deaths across 131 homes, and outbreaks in 50% of its homes. In contrast, official figures released on Tuesday 14th April showed just 237 people died from Coronavirus in care homes in two weeks. You can read about the Office of National Statistics data on COVID- 19 here.
It may not have been the Government’s intention to under report because, there is the matter of COVID- 19 deaths having to be verified, and the NHS has become overwhelmed with cases. However, this is truly a matter of the amount of tests that have been available and perhaps is highlighting the stark ignorance of the initial “herd immunity” approach that the Government took. It is understood that we have never faced a pandemic like the one that we are currently experiencing in the modern world, but it could be argued that the Government’s initial response left room for vulnerable groups to be exposed to risk on a daily basis.
Furthermore, it is important to note that many residents will be experiencing loneliness, after effectively being cut off from having regular visitors – recent years have seen major campaigns against the loneliness of elderly people in the UK. It is vital that those in care homes are prioritised.
At the moment, we do not truly know how many care home residents and staff have been exposed to the virus and will continue to be at risk. However, it is hoped that the Government’s plan to test more will help those in the social care system to be recognised and looked after.