Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:50 pm on 11th November 2020.

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Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:50 pm, 11th November 2020

I thank all those on the frontline at Warwick Hospital, University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire and our care homes, as well as the police, our local council and those in our schools who have worked throughout this period. I thank all the volunteers for the extraordinary work that they have done in such extraordinary times. There has been such little respite for all of them; I commend and thank them all.

Regrettably, it is going to be impossible to address all the problems that we face in four minutes, but perhaps I could say that it would have helped greatly if the Government had been able to lead by example and been more consistent in some of their policies. For example—I have mentioned this previously—how was it that, for some reason, we could allow people to travel on an aeroplane for three and a half hours, sitting cheek by jowl, but we could not allow those same people to sit in a cinema or a theatre, on a train, a bus or elsewhere? How was it that garden centres were allowed to open, but car showrooms were not? Eventually that was agreed to, and I press again for it to be allowed now.

I will focus my comments on the impact of covid-19 on our social care sector. If I have time, I will also mention the self-employed and furlough. The public were forgiving at the outset for many months, but they are rapidly tiring, and the Government’s actions are having a profound impact on their tolerance of and compliance with the guidance. That guidance is not clear; it is inconsistent, and people are struggling to follow. We have tier for this and tiers for that—tiers for universities and tiers for different parts of the country. But it is as we enter winter with the prospect of not being able to visit loved ones in care homes that my constituents are desperate to see family members and demand urgent action.

In the first lockdown up to 12 June, almost 20,000 residents of care homes in England died with covid-19. In fact, 28,000 excess deaths were recorded in care homes in England during the same period. In Warwickshire, we saw more than 400 excess deaths, which is why I called for—and continue to call for—an inquiry. As Amnesty International concluded in its report in early October,

“a number of decisions and policies adopted by authorities at the national and local level in England increased care home residents’
risk of exposure to the virus…notably…Mass discharges from hospital into care homes of patients infected or possibly infected with Covid-19 and advice that ‘[n]egative tests are not required prior to transfers/admissions into the care home’.”

If Amnesty has time, I would very much welcome its representatives to Warwickshire in to help me get this inquiry, which is essential and should have been done through the summer to prepare us for this second wave.

The ongoing restrictions have meant that people continue to be unable to visit their loved ones. It is a fact that over half of care home residents die within 15 months of moving into a care home. Many residents have now spent more than eight months without any visits from family or friends, with huge consequences for their wellbeing. Many care homes in Warwick and Leamington have stopped all visits due to the second wave, so it is critical that the Government act urgently to enable family members to visit their loved ones.

A simple action would be to amend visitor status. Organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Society are urging for an acceleration of the pilot key worker status scheme to enable family members and carers with access to regular testing and PPE to visit safely and provide care that people with dementia so desperately need. After all, SAGE states that infection rates from visitors to care homes are very low, and if visitors had access to PPE, weekly testing and infection control training, the risk would be significantly lower still. We also need to be clear about discharges from hospitals into care homes—a process that led to a significant proportion of care home deaths in the first wave. If there is one thing that the Government could do, it would be to change the visitor status of family members so that they could see their loved ones over the coming months and allow them the dignity that they should be afforded.