Care homes ‘not overlooked’ while focus was on NHS, says minister

Care homes were not overlooked during the coronavirus pandemic while focus was on preventing the NHS from being overwhelmed, a minister has said.

Environment Secretary George Eustice told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “No, I don’t accept it was overlooked, but obviously there was a real focus on our NHS because there were concerns that it might be overwhelmed and we wanted to make sure they had absolutely everything they needed.

“But in the case of care homes, we have always recognised that there was more vulnerability there.”

It comes as figures on the number of deaths in care homes and the wider community are due to be included for the first time in the Government’s daily updates.

Weekly data released on Tuesday showed deaths outside hospitals are continuing to rise, with more than half of the 4,343 death notifications from care homes to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) occurring in the five days up to April 24.

In contrast, daily deaths in hospitals have been falling overall since April 8.

In his analysis, Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, chairman of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, University of Cambridge, said it is “plausible” that an equal number of deaths are now occurring inside and out of hospital.

And care providers said it is clear the “epicentre of this crisis is in care homes” and that the sector is “sadly the most affected area of society in terms of deaths from Covid-19”.

George Eustice
George Eustice has defended the Government (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The UK’s coronavirus national testing coordinator Professor John Newton has said he expects a “substantial number” of people living in care homes will have died, ahead of the release of the figures on Wednesday.

Speaking on LBC, Professor Newton said: “We have always known that a proportion of cases have been in care homes.

“Sadly coronavirus affects older people a lot more… there will be a substantial number (of deaths).”

He added the Government is “massively increasing” the number of tests carried out on those living and working in care homes.

Mr Eustice denied that the earlier introduction of wider testing would have saved lives.

Asked if tests not being available earlier for care home workers had cost lives, he told BBC Breakfast: “I don’t think it is in that we’ve been working very very closely with the care sector and they have had very clear protocols in place.

“Because those staff are dealing with obviously very vulnerable cohort, the elderly, sometimes people with other conditions, if they are showing any symptoms at all then they must not be at work.

“Obviously testing does help and we’re now able to roll that testing out.”

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