They could have been safe havens from coronavirus. In our obsession with the NHS, they were ignored
As the nation stays at home to “protect the NHS”, another tragedy has been unfolding away from the public gaze. Covid-19 is raging through the UK’s care homes. The number of residents dying each week with the virus rose tenfold between 27 March and 4 April. It has long been clear that the virus is more likely to be fatal to the elderly and to those with underlying health conditions, yet those most in need of shielding have not been afforded the protection they needed.
From the beginning of this year, as data emerged from China showing how the lethality of coronavirus differed according to age, it was clear that it would be the elderly who should take greatest care to avoid contracting the disease. Evidence from Italy emphasised the point; the age profile of the population, combined with the greater prevalence of multi-generational households, helped to explain the rapid spread and high death rates experienced in that country. Yet the bodies responsible for the inspection and supervision of our care homes, and in some cases the managers of those homes, were behind the curve.
In the UK, multi-generational households are the exception. Before the advent of coronavirus, this was commonly held to be a sad state of affairs. Why did we shuffle our elderly relations into residential care rather than have them living with young families? But with the arrival of a pandemic, this separation of the generations might have been converted from weakness to strength. Care homes could have become the equivalent of the “isolation hospitals” used until the 1960s to help protect against infectious diseases.
It should not be just a matter of hindsight to point to such a possibility: in 2016, a national drill codenamed Exercise Cygnus warned the government, the NHS and local authorities that the UK needed to be better prepared for the possibility that a severe strain of influenza could arrive from an Asian country with devastating effects. Every winter, care homes have to be on their guard against seasonal flu, knowing it to be more deadly for their residents than for the young and healthy.
三级成人视频Why, then, did the care home sector, the Care Quality Commission and local authorities not impose early lockdowns on care homes and demand that all staff be provided with protective clothing and virus testing? Perhaps the desire to ensure that the elderly did not feel lonely, and the well-meaning insistence that they should maintain social contact lest they suffer from depression, served to distract those in authority from the need to prioritise their physical health.
But it is hard to see why some relatively simple precautions could not have been introduced as soon as coronavirus reached these shores. Hand sanitisers at every doorway, restrictions on visitors and daily health checks on staff should have been the minimum required, backed up by warnings by Public Health England. However imperfect testing may be, surely care home workers should be given the same priority as doctors and nurses, to avoid them unwittingly spreading the illness to their elderly charges.
Moreover, protecting care homes and their residents will become even more important in the months ahead. Steps must very soon be taken to return the young and economically active to some semblance of normal life. But given all the evidence available about the differing impact of the virus, the over-70s and those with existing health problems will no doubt be required to isolate themselves as much as possible from the risk of transmission. The public needs to have confidence that the most elderly and frail are being properly protected.
It is a dismal irony, however, that our national and quasi-religious obsession with the health service三级成人视频 has pushed care homes out of the picture. The Government has justified its entire strategy for fighting this pandemic on the need to “protect the NHS”, given the limited number of intensive care beds available.
NHS capacity三级成人视频 does not yet appear to have been breached, but it is sadly inevitable that deaths in care homes will continue to rise. Let us at least do more to protect their staff properly and do our best to ensure that their frail residents are not exposed to unnecessary suffering.