The coronavirus peak in care homes could be months away and any potential second wave would represent a failure from health agencies to support social care, the head of Care England said.
Chief executive Professor Martin Green said there is still “no parity whatsoever” between the NHS and social care, with discrepancies evident on every level.
While access to testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) is improving, money given to local authorities is not getting through to the front line despite providers’ hugely increased costs, he warned.
Another problem has been the lack of real-time data on care home deaths, with the Government only starting to publish daily updates in the sixth week of lockdown.
Care homes are in this situation because of failures of NHS England and PHE.Prof Martin Green
Prof Green, who leads the largest representative body for independent providers of adult social care, warned that the country could face a second wave if authorities do not support the sector properly.
Asked how far behind the peak in hospital deaths the care sector is, he said: “We are a long way behind, because despite what the Health Secretary says about us being always regarded as a priority, well clearly we weren’t.
“At the start of this pandemic, the only narrative was ‘protect the NHS’. And what that manifested itself in – we had PPE supplies disrupted, we had primary care completely withdrawing from care homes.”
From the beginning of the outbreak, the Government should have had plans to ensure the NHS could support residents inside care homes, he said.
Some of the spare beds in Nightingale hospitals could have been turned into mobile units to bring intensive care directly into care homes, he added.
He continued: “Clearly we weren’t at the centre of this pandemic. So I just think the Government needs to understand that, if they knew in January we were the high-risk area, and it’s quite clear from the very start of this that people with long-term and underlying health conditions were the most vulnerable, where every single person in a care home falls into that category, why wasn’t the response quicker?”
Estimating a time-scale for the care home peak, he said: “I think it will probably, hopefully, be weeks, but it could potentially be months.”
But he said NHS England and Public Health England will be held accountable if a second peak emerges.
Responding to reports that NHS England director Professor Keith Willett told NHS chiefs that care homes will be the “epicentres of transmission” for coronavirus spreading back into society, he said: “Care homes are in this situation because of failures of NHS England and PHE and actually, if there is a second wave, it will be a continuation of their failure that produces it.”
Prof Green also said “dangerous bureaucracy” is preventing people from responding quickly to the pandemic.
He said he is aware of elements of “defensive decision-making” from Government officials, for fear of repercussions in any future public inquiry.
He said: “What we have got to do in future, we need a root and branch reform of the culture of Government, they need to have cultures that are quick to make decisions, and systems that enable them to implement the decisions immediately.”
Chief executive of Methodist Homes (MHA), Sam Monaghan, said it was “disingenuous” for the Government to say the virus is on a downward slope, as this is not the case for care homes.
He added: “Whilst the new testing policy criteria is finally laudable, in practice it remains completely shambolic, with many staff and residents unable to secure tests, inconsistencies between the nations, leaving homes unable to effectively control the virus.
“We cannot and will not accept assumptions that higher rates of death in care homes is somehow inevitable. With the right support, it isn’t.”