Coronavirus and Care Homes

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:33 pm on 19th May 2020.

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Photo of Liz Kendall Liz Kendall Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 12:33 pm, 19th May 2020

Over 23,000 more people have died in care homes in the first four months of this year compared with last year. This virus is the biggest health challenge of our lives, but Ministers have been too slow to tackle the problem in care homes, social care has not had the same priority as the NHS, and these services have not been treated as inextricably linked.

Will the Secretary of State explain why guidance saying that care homes were “very unlikely” to be infected was not withdrawn until 12 March, given that the chief medical officer warned about community transmission and the risks to the elderly on 4 March? NHS England rightly asked hospitals to free up at least 30,000 beds to cope with the virus, but will the Secretary of State explain why there was no requirement to test those being discharged to care homes—the very group most at risk—until 15 April? Care providers had serious problems getting personal protective equipment, as their normal supply was requisitioned by the NHS, when both are equally important. Why did that happen?

It took until mid-April for the Government to produce a social care plan, until the end of April for them to say that all residents and staff should be tested, and until 11 May for them to set a deadline for achieving this—and that deadline still is not until 6 June. Will the Secretary of State explain how he squares all that with his claim that Government have thrown a “protective cloak” around care homes right from the start? Despite all the warnings, care homes in my constituency told me over the weekend that they cannot access the Government’s new online testing portal, that tests are not being picked up and that it is often weeks until they get results back. When will this be sorted out?

Finally, the Government have said that the NHS will get whatever resources it takes to deal with this virus. Will the Minister now make the same commitment to social care and guarantee that no provider will collapse because of this virus? No one denies how difficult this is, but instead of denying problems and delays, Ministers should learn from their mistakes so that they can put the right measures in place in future and keep all elderly and disabled people safe.