Close relatives will be able to say goodbye to their loved ones as they die from coronavirus, the Health Secretary has said, as he stopped blanket do not resuscitate agreements being put in place for the elderly and vulnerable.
Matt Hancock announced a package of measures aimed at combating the spread of coronavirus in care homes following huge criticism of the Government’s response to the growing crisis.
Those running care homes have accused the Government of forgetting staff and the elderly, citing inadequate stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) alongside a lack of testing.
Mr Hancock said “wherever possible” people will be given the “chance to say goodbye” to loved ones dying with Covid-19, after reports of the elderly dying alone in care homes and some hospitals banning all visitors.
He said “wanting to be with someone you love at the end of their life is one of the deepest human instincts”, and that as a father himself he wept at reports of 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, from Brixton, south London, dying without a parent at his bedside.
“I’m pleased to say that working with Public Health England, the care sector and many others, we are introducing new procedures so we can limit the risk of infection while wherever possible giving people’s closest loved ones the chance to say goodbye,” he said.
Mr Hancock said a supply network of “unprecedented scale” would also help get PPE to care home staff.
And he announced a new “single brand” with a badge for care workers, which he said may help them access similar perks to NHS staff.
“This badge will be a badge of honour in a very real sense, allowing social care staff proudly and publicly to identify themselves, just like NHS staff do with that famous blue and white logo,” he said.
But Rehana Azam, national officer of the GMB union, said: “Our care workers need more than a badge and a pat on their head to define their precious role in society.
“They need the protective equipment and testing on the front line now to protect their lives.”
“There is nothing stopping relatives saying goodbye in care homes now as long as they have sufficient PPE. So this goes back to the problem of there not being sufficient PPE for the staff, never mind families,” said a spokesman for MHA, one of the largest charitable providers of care homes.
During the daily press briefing, Mr Hancock said the Government was making it “crystal clear” that it was unacceptable for advanced care plans – including do not resuscitate orders – to be applied in a blanket fashion to any group of people.
“This must always be a personalised process, as it always has been,” he said.
The Cabinet minister denied suggestions the lives of younger people had been prioritised at the expense of those in care homes and that people had died unnecessarily.
However, England’s deputy chief scientific adviser Dame Angela McLean said there was a “huge question” about how to protect care homes which do not yet have cases.
It comes as it emerged a pregnant nurse has died at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital after testing positive for coronavirus.
Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong, who worked as a nurse on a general ward at the hospital, died on Sunday.
The baby was successfully delivered and is doing well, according to the hospital.
In a further hint that lockdown measures would be extended on Thursday, Mr Hancock told reporters the “hard work” and sacrifices of the public must not be let go of now.
“This shared sacrifice – and I know it’s a sacrifice – is starting to work but we will not lift these measures until it is safe to do so,” he said.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said the death toll may rise later this week but he believes the UK is “probably” reaching the peak of the outbreak.
We are not yet at the point where we can say confidently and safely this is now past the peak and we can start thinking very much about the next phasesProfessor Chris Whitty
He said: “At the moment, we are not yet at the point where we can say confidently and safely this is now past the peak and we can start thinking very much about the next phases.”
Asked why the Government has not been forthcoming in explaining its exit strategy, unlike other countries, Mr Hancock said: “Different countries are in different stages in this epidemic, and one of the things that I think we have learnt during this crisis is that the clarity of the guidance to the public is incredibly important and hence we repeat it.”
Challenged about the missed 25,000 daily testing target, Mr Hancock said the Government had “hit each of the goals we have set”.
He claimed a target of 25,000 tests a day was originally set for the end of April, although the Department of Health had initially said it was due within four weeks from March 18.
Mr Hancock said: “We committed to 10,000 tests by the end of March, which we hit, then we had previously committed to 25,000 by the end of April – I increased that goal to 100,000.
“We have hit each of the goals that we have set on testing and we have had the capacity continuing to ramp up this month, the demand has been lower over the Easter weekend as staff haven’t wanted to come forward for testing, which is understandable during a long weekend.”
In other developments, Downing Street admitted PPE may have to be reused if it is established it is safe to do so.
Comments gathered by the British Medical Association (BMA) and shared with the PA news agency show how, as recently as Monday, medics were still being forced to work without adequate PPE, with some turning to bin liners and washing their visors in disinfectant.
Latest figures show that 12,868 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Tuesday, up by 761 from 12,107 the day before.