Ministers ‘abandoned’ care homes to coronavirus | World news

Ministers have been accused of having “completely abandoned” the care home sector to the threat of coronavirus, as criticism mounts of the decision to allow elderly residents to be discharged from the NHS without being tested.

Nadra Ahmed, the chair of the National Care Association, said the care sector had been suffering so badly in the coronavirus crisis because of the drive to clear beds in hospitals and protect its capacity to deal with new patients.

She accused the government of having “completely abandoned” care homes, and said the scientific advice appeared to have been wrong in not having made provisions to shield them from new infections earlier.

“We understand the mantra ‘save the NHS’ but the concern was about the cost that it would have [in care homes],” she told the BBC’s Today programme. Asked about the scientific advice that the government received was wrong, she said: “It was certainly not as well put as it should have been. And perhaps yes it was wrong. Because having said we were the sector looking after the most frail and vulnerable, surely the first thing would have been how we could shield that bit of the sector.”

Her comments came as housing minister acknowledged the coronavirus crisis in care homes was “absolutely terrible”. The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I don’t deny that what is happening in care homes is absolutely terrible. It’s a huge challenge. But we are trying to put as much support as we can around care homes.”

There is anger about the failure to test residents for coronavirus before they were discharged from the NHS or, if they were tested, then the results were not always available in time. A study from the London School of Economics (LSE) on Wednesday put the death toll for care home residents in England and Wales at 22,000, more than double the official estimate.

Andrew Lansley, the Conservative peer and former health secretary, told the BBC’s Newsnight that the government “should never have allowed patients to be discharged from hospital into care homes in circumstances where we couldn’t say they weren’t Covid-19 positive”.

Jeremy Hunt, another Conservative former health secretary and the chair of the health committee, added to criticism, having already warned of the problem in mid-March and called for all visitors to care homes to be banned.

“I think the practical thing we can all see needed to have happened was to make sure that everyone discharged from hospitals to care homes was tested for Covid before they were sent to a care home. Because we didn’t have the testing capacity it wasn’t possible to do that.

“I think in retrospect – and I have responsibility for this as someone who was health secretary for six years – because we were over-focused on pandemic flu and not pandemic Sars-like viruses we hadn’t been thinking for some time about the importance of testing. Had we done that, then maybe some of these things could have been avoided.”

He also said it was “pretty clear now that it was wrong that the UK stopped testing in the community on 12 March”. He said part of the problem is that the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) is so secret and therefore its advice had not been scrutinised by other scientists.

Edward Argar, a health minister, defended the government’s handling of the crisis in care homes but admitted that not all care home residents are yet getting tests when they need them. The government has set a target of 6 June for all residents, symptomatic or not, to be able to get a test, which is more than three weeks away.

Boris Johnson was put on the back foot over the issue on Wednesday, as Keir Starmer used prime minister’s questions to ask why Public Health England (PHE) had advised in March that care home residents were “very unlikely” to become infected by Covid-19. This was Public Health England’s position as the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic and people were already dying in the UK.

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