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The government had a “policy of emptying hospitals and filling care homes” when coronavirus began to grip the country, a top care boss has said.
Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said Boris Johnson should have stopped the spread of Covid-19 to social care settings, where elderly people, many of whom have underlying health conditions, were particularly vulnerable to the disease.
“We had a policy of emptying hospitals and filling care homes, but in some (other) countries when people were symptomatic they were taken out of care homes into isolation facilities,” Green told MPs on the Commons’ health and social care committee on Tuesday.
In the early stages of the outbreak, government policy had been concentrated on the NHS, he said.
“We should have been focusing on care homes from the start of this. What we saw at the start was a focus on the NHS,” Green said.
He also criticised the discharge of patients from hospitals to care homes, saying people who either “didn’t have a Covid-19 status or were symptomatic were discharged into care homes” which were full of people “with underlying health conditions”.
Green, whose body represents care home providers in England, said homes should have been isolating residents who returned from hospital - as those in some other countries have - but many did not have the right set up.
“It would have been really great to have had some kind of database which identified the care homes that had the capacity to do more isolation and and the ones that didn’t,” he said.
And he said some test results for staff or residents in care homes had been lost.
“I think one of the challenges has been that people have had situations where their test results have been lost,” he said.
“They’ve also waited a long time for those test results, and then of course we’re unclear whether or not those test results are current, so they might have to go back for other testing. So, that is a real challenge.”
New data released by the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday, which factors in care home deaths, suggests that the UK toll has passed 44,000.
The combined UK figures include suspected cases of coronavirus and say that around a quarter of deaths took place in care homes.
The ONS statistics will vary from official government figures due to differences in accounting. On Monday, the government’s UK-wide total stood at 34,796 deaths and 246,406 cases.
Green said there may be a downward trend in care home cases from now on, but added the sector was “probably at the top of the curve” right now.
He added that lags in data had led to difficulties in how care homes were able to respond to the crisis.
“And I think part of that challenge has been that we have not had appropriate and real-time data, so it’s been very difficult to keep a handle on some of the things that have been going on in real time,” he said.
Asked about availability of testing, which health secretary Matt Hancock has now expanded to include everyone in care homes, he said: “Well the testing is improving, there’s certainly more testing around.
“There are some logistical issues. So for example, people are often finding that their tests aren’t arriving on time or indeed being taken away on time.
“There have also been some significant time delays before people have got results.
“So we’re looking at sometimes eight to 10 days before people get results.”
He cautioned, however, that tests were not a “one-time occupation” and that staff and care home residents may need numerous checks.
“It’s got to be done two or three times a week if possible so that we can really get on top of this,” he told the committee, chaired by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Green also stressed “there’s a time delay before delivery” when it came to government announcements on new policy.
He said test, track and trace could be a “game-changer” alongside regular testing.
“I think the short answer is we’ve had the announcement, what we haven’t had is the delivery, and we’re not really clear when that’s going to arrive.”
Green’s statements were strongly refuted by Downing Street, however.
The PM’s official spokesperson told reporters on Tuesday: “No care home should be forced to take back recovering Covid patients if they don’t feel that they can provide the appropriate care.
“We have been clear on that throughout. The NHS are now testing all people leaving hospital in advance of their discharge to care homes.”