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Covid-19: Care Home Deaths

Volume 803: debated on Wednesday 22 April 2020

Private Notice Question

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the analysis by Care England which suggests that there have been significantly more deaths caused by Covid-19 in care homes than have been reported.

The Question was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.

My Lords, the need for daily figures means that there are two official publications: first, the daily figure that is used in the No. 10 presentation, which includes deaths of care home residents in hospitals but not those who die in the home; and, secondly, a weekly figure produced by the ONS which covers all locations of death, including care homes, but which has an 11-day lag.

I thank the Minister for his response. Both Care England and the National Care Forum report an alarming increase in the number of care home deaths, with estimates of more than 6,000 deaths above this week’s official ONS figure of 1,043; we already know that these figures are 12 days out of date when they are published. The National Care Forum has called for the Government to build a ring of steel around care homes to safeguard the most vulnerable among us, with providers suggesting that doctors and nurses should be urgently deployed to fight Covid-19 in homes for older people. They rightly stress that an unprecedented situation calls for an unprecedented plan, as we have had in hospitals. What is the Minister’s response?

The noble Baroness is entirely right. This is an evil disease which strikes the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions the worst, and those who live in care homes are the most vulnerable. The Government have sought to put a ring of steel in place. We have resourced care homes enormously. Testing is now being focused on care homes to try to reduce the prevalence of the disease, and we will continue to focus on protecting our care homes.

My question is about the information we have on the deaths of care workers in care homes. Given that so many of our care homes are extensively staffed by BAME workers, and we are incredibly grateful, can the Minister say whether we are likely to have figures for the proportion of BAME staff in those homes who have died? On that point, and in the context of the review, which we welcome, into the disproportionate numbers of BAME workers generally in the health service who have been affected, can the Minister tell us when it will start, who will lead that inquiry and what timetable the Government will be working to?

I echo the noble Baroness’s timely comments on the role of BAME workers, many of whom have provided an amazing service and put themselves in harm’s way to care for those who are vulnerable. The idea that they are being disproportionately hit by this disease is extremely distressing. The numbers are not to hand so I cannot share precise numbers at the moment, but we are looking into this at speed and trying to understand the causes and the impact of this awful phenomenon. I commit to bring those numbers to the House as soon as they are available.

I have heard about a care home which lost one-third of the residents in one weekend. It is that bad. I am told that the Clipper system for ordering PPE is not working and consequently homes are having to try to source PPE by their own independent means and, unlike the NHS, they have to pay VAT on those expensive items. That will push some organisations that were already fairly vulnerable over the edge and they are going to close, so what are the Government going to do to stop that?

The noble Baroness is entirely right to raise the question of PPE. Looking into the medium and long term, there is undoubtedly going to be a massive demand for PPE in hospitals, care homes and the wider workplace. That has put a dramatic pressure on global supplies. Britain, like every other country, is queuing for supplies of PPE. The Government are throwing enormous resources at increasing supplies. The Clipper system is one of the essential components of getting supplies into the workplace and I believe that is beginning to kick in and is working well.

My Lords, it is not just care homes facing these very serious challenges; I have learned that it is also hospices and sheltered accommodation, among other places. Managers responsible for those organisations are under enormous pressure trying to ensure safe staffing levels and the safety of their staff. I hope that sufficient PPE will soon be secured and distributed. Although I recognise the enormous challenge and the efforts that are being made towards that, in the immediate context where we do not have that, can the Minister tell us how the Government aim to advise and support those responsible for running our care homes, sheltered accommodation and hospices, who are having to make such difficult decisions now and many of whom feel abandoned and rather lonely in that responsibility?

The right reverend Prelate makes the completely fair point that this disease is utterly unfair and cruel in the way that it targets the old and the vulnerable, and those who are in the front line of our care system are carrying the greatest burden of all. Huge resources have been put in place, both financially and in terms of seeking to recruit more staff, but undoubtedly more can be done. Guidelines are evolving at great pace regarding both PPE and other care arrangements, and we are constantly reviewing and updating both the arrangements and guidelines for care home staff, as she suggests.

My Lords, many people with a learning disability share their home with others, with support from social care providers. If a housemate dies from Covid-19, this will be extremely upsetting. Also, many people were taken back to their family home, often by elderly parents, from care settings at the beginning of lockdown. Some will have died there or their elderly parent may have died, leaving them with no familiar support or advocacy. I am concerned about the availability of skills support to people with learning disabilities at such times of traumatic loss. There are accessible resources; I declare an interest as co-author of some that have been developed by Books Beyond Words. How are local authorities supporting providers and families to ensure that those receiving care are supported when someone dies, especially given the easements to the Care Act and the inability of family and friends to visit?

The noble Baroness raises what is probably the cruellest and most unkind aspect of this awful epidemic: the circumstances of death where those who love and care cannot necessarily be with those who have died or attend the funeral or mark the moment in the way that they would like. It is a cruel and horrible part of this epidemic.

We have put considerable resources into supporting charities that provide care, particularly around bereavement. If the noble Baroness has any charities that she would like to recommend, I ask her to write to me. I would be glad to make sure that they have the resources they need.

I know that the well-respected Minister recognises that his department is the department not only of health but of social care. Does he agree that there has been an almost total preoccupation in the department with the NHS and a near disregard of social care, resulting in a high price being paid by both individuals and communities? Does he agree that there would be great benefit in a fundamental review of the role of social care, the training and skills of the staff, and a proper regard accorded to those who daily are meeting the needs of the most vulnerable people in our society?

The noble Lord, Lord Laming, makes a point that I am afraid I cannot agree with. While the press may be more focused on hospitals, we in the department have put an enormous amount of focus on social care. I pay tribute to my colleague Helen Whately, the social care Minister, who does not allow us to spend one minute not thinking about social care. However, the noble Lord is right that social care was deserving of a review in any case, and this epidemic will make that review even more poignant, relevant and important. I very much support his view that a review should take place after the epidemic and that it should be a root and branch look at the social care provision in this country.

No, I am afraid not; we have reached 10 minutes and we need to finish. We will try to get you in on another occasion. I apologise to those who were not able to ask a question. As the Lord Speaker said earlier today, account will be taken of that in future sessions.

Virtual Proceeding suspended.