Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 14, April 18, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

The Outdated and Unacceptable Arrangements
As Government Ignores People Who Die in Care Homes

On Friday, the government admitted for the first time that the figures of the deaths of people in care homes and the community from COVID-19 were false. Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health, confirmed that the figures had been "substantially underestimated" as he appeared before the Commons Select Committee. He admitted that there had been more deaths of care home residents than had so far been reported by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), and the share of deaths taking place in homes was higher than so far reported. "I have asked the CQC to make sure we record the deaths of those who are residents of care homes. They started to collect that data yesterday and it will start to be published shortly."

The Health Service Journal[1] commented: "The size of the discrepancy for only a single week to April 3 suggests that a figure of 1,400 total deaths in care homes from COVID-19 given by Care England this week may be a substantial underestimate."

With no hard data being recorded by the government and ONS, The National Care Forum[2] after doing a survey demonstrated "a significant increase in Coronavirus related deaths within care homes", which when scaled up suggest that "more than 2,500 care home residents may have died in the homes of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 during last week alone, representing a 193% increase. This analysis suggests that a total of 4,040 people may have died of this illness within UK residential and nursing services before April 13. Factoring in the deaths of individuals who were admitted to hospitals, the figure is a tragic 7,337 deaths amongst our most vulnerable communities."

This government admission shows more than the criminal way in which it is handling the COVID-19 pandemic by ignoring the deaths of patients dying in care homes. This miscounting of deaths shows the whole disregard for human life that has always been evident with the ruling elite and successive British governments. For, example over many years, the "winter crisis" in the NHS has seen the unnecessary deaths of patients due to lack of beds, trolley waits and so on, which has never been formally recorded and highlighted by government, let alone the tragic loss of life in care homes in the present pandemic. Also, during the Iraq war, not only did the Blair government of the time criminally commit war crimes by invading Iraq, but it also refused to count the hundreds of thousands killed or maimed in Iraq by their invasion. The pandemic in this respect is playing the role of exposing the criminal disregard and contempt for human life of those in power whose outlook is to serve private interests, not safeguard human life and the public well-being.

Indeed, one of the striking features of the Coronavirus Act 2020, which received the Royal Assent on March 25, is its perspective of "a reduced workforce, increased pressure on health services and death management processes" and to "introduce new statutory powers which are designed to mitigate these impacts", as the Explanatory Notes to the Act state. The contrast between the safeguarding of public health and well-being, including preventing deaths from the disease, and the Act's focus on "a reduced workforce" and "death management processes" is impossible to ignore.

Moreover, the admission that the government's figures for deaths from COVID-19 are wrong exposes the outdated and unacceptable arrangements, where the lives and concerns of the people are ignored and where the health and care workers have little or no say in the arrangements. What health care workers and the people in the community have been fighting for is the necessity for a human-centred system of health and social care that meets the needs of all for hospital, community, mental health and care homes. Central to such a system is the necessity to empower health workers and care workers to make the crucial decisions. This includes the ability to mobilise the working class and people to their full capacity and with their full involvement, especially in times of such a crisis at the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nothing less is acceptable.

[1] Dave West, "Care home deaths substantially underestimated as Hancock moves to speed reporting", HSJ, April 17, 2020

[2] "Ring of steel needed to support care homes as deaths double in a week", NCF press release, April 18, 2020


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