Lack of joined-up services led to more deaths during pandemic – charity leader

A lack of joined-up health and social care services led to an increased number of older people dying during the coronavirus pandemic, a charity leader has said.

Untrained care staff were “left pretty much on their own” when clinical and community services withdrew from some residential care homes during the outbreak, said Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK.

Care home residents, as well as those receiving domiciliary care, often have multiple medical issues which require clinical treatment, on top of needing help with daily activities such as washing and dressing.

However, care homes typically do not employ staff who are clinically qualified, Ms Abrahams said, adding that this is “bonkers”.

She told the Lords Public Services Committee that health leaders should look to other countries such as Denmark, where professionals deliver low-level health care alongside traditional social care.

Otherwise, she said: “Expecting care staff to be able to do a good enough job for people like this is going to be problematic, and it means that they are hugely reliant on community and GP services coming in to help.

“Of course, what happened during the pandemic was that in some areas that continued to work reasonably well, but in some areas it didn’t work at all, services withdrew and these unqualified care staff were left pretty much on their own – there were problems getting drugs as well, all kinds of issues.”

She continued: “We really need to join up at every level, and I’m afraid that the pandemic has found out the fault lines between these services, and has undoubtedly led to more people losing their lives than would otherwise have been the case, in my view.

“That’s not anybody’s fault, I’m not casting blame, but it’s a systemic issue that we absolutely now have to solve in my view.”

Ms Abraham said the care workforce must be professionalised, with vacancies currently viewed as at “the bottom of the pile” in job centres.

She added that a care worker gets considerably less money than a healthcare assistant working in the NHS, and that conditions for people doing the same job in either sector need to have equal conditions.

Writing in a related paper on the matter which she said she was happy to share with the committee, she said: “The pandemic has shown that care in our country is not a system and that no-one is in charge, yet every day millions of older people rely on good care, joined up with good healthcare, to stay alive, happy and well and their families trust us to provide it.

“We promise that help will be there for all from ‘cradle to grave’ but during this pandemic we’ve fallen way short of that so far as thousands of older people are concerned, who have suffered grievously as a result.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Sky News.