It is now a year since COVID-19 arrived on our shores. The impact on those living in care has been devastating. With the anniversary came a grim milestone; over 100,000 lives lost, almost a third of which were care home residents. These are shocking and heartbreaking statistics, and behind each one is the story of a life lost, a family left behind. These figures also make a mockery of the ‘protective ring’ the Government claims to have thrown around care homes. Instead, callers to our helpline tell us they feel abandoned, forgotten, an afterthought throughout the pandemic.
A litany of mistakes by the Government has led to one of the worst COVID-19 death tolls in the world. From the mismanagement of the virus within care settings – including lack of PPE and testing, and discharge of patients from hospitals into care without testing – to the failure to control the virus in the community – including the defective test and trace system. These are mistakes for which the Government will have to answer at a future public inquiry. But for now, we urgently need to learn lessons from the first wave of the pandemic and from other countries about how to get a handle on this virus to prevent the loss of more lives.
Older people living in care have now faced almost a year of restrictions, both on being able to leave their home and on family/friends coming in. This isolation has had dire and tragic consequences for many residents. Relationships have been torn apart, access to family advocates have been lost, homes suddenly turned into institutions. The result has been a dramatic decline in both mental and physical health. Loneliness, confusion and distress have increased and we hear of too many that have given up on life.
For those on the outside, months of watching through the window or video screen as their relative or friend deteriorates has led to increased anxiety, depression and desperation. There has been a significant toll on care staff too, managing such a prolonged period of challenges, including loss of residents and colleagues, staff shortages and trying to fill the gaps left by now absent family carers.
An urgent strategy is needed from the Government on how to reconnect residents with their family/friends following the rollout of the vaccine in care settings. Older people in care cannot wait until the spring and for schools to re-open, they need safe access to their essential visitors now to protect their human rights. They cannot be forgotten any longer.