This week, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee released a damning report into the government’s handling of social care during the coronavirus pandemic.
The report criticised the “Government’s slow, inconsistent and, at times, negligent approach to giving the sector the support it needed during the pandemic.” It also drew attention to “Years of inattention, funding cuts and delayed reforms” in social care.
The Committee – a cross-party group including a number of Conservative MPs – was “particularly concerned” by the government’s “failure to provide adequate PPE for the social care sector and testing to the millions of staff and volunteers who risked their lives to help us through the first peak of the crisis”.
The document stated that the decision to discharge 25,000 patients into care homes without making sure all had been tested for COVID-19 was illustrative of the government’s poor handling of the crisis. The Committee went on to say that was “concerned” that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) continued discharging patients without testing “even once it was clear there was an emerging problem”.
The report’s findings, sadly, don’t come as any surprise. Years of underfunding had already driven our social care system into crisis before the pandemic hit.
In fact, the report confirms what I discovered as Joint Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Care.
Last year, the APPG released a report that called for greater integration between social care and NHS services, with care workers given equal status as NHS staff. The new report reiterated this point, arguing that “There are many lessons that the government must learn, not least giving adult social care equal support to the NHS and considering them as two parts of a single system”
As coronavirus was spreading across Europe, the government was too slow on PPE, too slow on testing and too slow to protect care homes.
The Prime Minister didn’t just fail to prioritise social care, he allowed patients from hospitals to go into care homes and spread the virus. He let care homes sink under the pressure without guidance or support.
Locally, I know that social care staff couldn’t get access to PPE and testing even though they were caring for people most at-risk from the virus.
The Covid-19 death rate in social care staff is double that of the general working age population, while around 20,000 care home residents have passed away. The government needs to take responsibility for this tragedy and ensure that it is never repeated.
If this isn’t the catalyst for massive reform of this totally failing sector we may as well admit that as a society we simply don’t care about our elderly and vulnerable.