The number of coronavirus deaths in UK care homes in the first wave of the pandemic, which were among the highest in Europe, could have been avoided but were regarded as an “afterthought”, MPs have found.
A joint inquiry by the Science and Technology committee and the Health and Social Care committee reports that there was inadequate focus on social care in the early stages of 2020 that led to the ‘seeding of infections’ in care homes, where more than 41,000 residents died from Covid in the 13 months to April of this year.
The report is highly critical of the government’s initial response to the pandemic, and while it believes that the UK was not alone in suffering significant loss of life in care homes, the scale of loss was among the worst in Europe and could have been mitigated.
It states: “The lack of priority of social care during the initial phase of the pandemic was illustrative of a broader and longer-standing issue in the health and social care system.”
The report adds that the most damaging way in which the prioritisation of the NHS over social care manifested itself was in the rapid discharge of people from hospitals to care homes without adequate testing.
Professor David Oliver, a consultant geriatrician and Nuffield Trust fellow, told the MPs that ‘protect the NHS’ meant protect the acute hospital bed base, with everything else a bit of an afterthought.
A total, 41,675 care-home residents were recorded as having died of Covid between 16 March 2020 and April 2021 – accounting for more than one in four deaths from all causes among care-home residents.
Around 25,000 people were discharged from hospitals into care homes between 17 March and 15 April 2020.