Coronavirus care home deaths expose social care crisis and council cuts

Coronavirus deaths in care homes
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“Rise up with me against the organisation of misery”

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a glaring light on an ongoing public health crisis, the shocking results of cuts in government grants to local authorities, and privatisation of care.

Covid 19  has claimed the lives of up to 7,500 (and rising) care home residents according to Care England, Britain’s largest representative body for care homes.  

The quote at the beginning of the article is from Pablo Neruda (1904—1973), a Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet-diplomat and politician, who became an advisor to Chile’s socialist President Salvador Allende. Sir Michael Marmot used this quote in a review “Fair Society Healthy Lives” published in 2010. On 25 February this year he published a follow-on report “Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On”, saying these words are as relevant today. 

The report explains that health inequality has not been a priority since 2010, there has been no strategy to achieve this, and indeed austerity will cast a shadow over the lives of the children born and growing up under its effects. The time spent in ill-health for men and women is increasing and life expectancy actually fell in the most deprived communities out of London; outcomes are even worse for minority ethnic population groups and people with disabilities.  

As the British Geriatrics Society, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing point out:  “care home residents have often become the medically dispossessed in spite of their complex care needs’; this is the background of the high percentage of deaths in care homes. 

In a full-page article in the Financial Times (10/02/2020) Gill Plimmer raises concerns that many thousands of frail elderly and disabled people are in the hands of private equity and hedge fund companies, attracted by a guaranteed state income and an ageing population with ill-health. 

An example of this is Four Seasons (the UK’s second largest care home company). Since it failed to meet a £26m debt interest payment, its fate and that of its 16,000 residents have been in the hands of its largest creditor, the Connecticut-based hedge fund H/2 Capital Partners, set up by Spencer Haber, who made his fortune in Lehman Brothers, the now defunct Wall Street bank.

Four Seasons’ troubles have now deepened and more of its 320 homes have been taken over or closed, including the Whitchurch Care Home, which was found by official inspectors to: leave emergency buzzers unanswered, fail to administer some medicines, leave many of its frail elderly residents without a bath, shower or wash for a month and fail to take them to hospital appointments.

The National Pensioners Convention, the UK’s largest pensioners’ campaigning organisation, has been fighting for at least 15 years for a National Care Service funded in the same way as the NHS – through general taxation and free at the point of delivery, with proper pay and conditions for care workers.  The NPC will soon publish a new pamphlet “Goodbye Cinderella – A New Settlement for Care Services” will soon be published and will be available for circulation to the unions.

Dot Gibson

Assistant General Secretary NPC