Report finds care homes ‘badly let down’ by Welsh Government during pandemic
Care homes were “badly let down” by the Welsh Government during the coronavirus pandemic, a report has found.
The Welsh Parliament’s health committee said ministers were too slow to launch a testing regime for both staff and residents at the start of the crisis.
Figures from the Office for National Statistic (ONS) show there were 663 Covid-19 deaths in Welsh care homes up to June 12, which accounts for 28% of all Covid deaths in Wales.
Published on Wednesday, the report on the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wales said committee members were “deeply troubled” by the number of Covid-related deaths in care settings.
“Care homes look after some of our oldest and most vulnerable members of society. They deserve to be protected in the event of a national health emergency, yet they have been badly let down during this crisis,” the report said.
“It is our view that the Welsh Government’s initial approach to testing in care homes was flawed, and that it was subsequently too slow in responding to the mounting crisis that has seen deaths in care homes account for 28% of all coronavirus deaths in Wales.”
Care home residents with symptoms and patients being discharged from hospital were not routinely tested in Wales until health minister Vaughan Gething changed the testing policy on April 29, more than two months after lockdown.
The report said the government “took too long” to implement proper testing measures for care homes, and that though the initial decisions to only test residents and staff if they showed symptoms was reversed, it came “considerably later than in England and Scotland”.
Both initial decisions came “at great cost to the social care sector”, it said.
The report also noted evidence from the GMB trade union which claimed social care staff were given “woefully inadequate” supplies of PPE, restricted to gloves and plastic aprons, which left them at “high risk of infection and heightened the risk and the number of deaths in the care homes”.
And the initial decision on May 2 to only extend testing to residents and staff in care homes with 50 or more beds was criticised by Care Forum Wales when giving evidence, as it said most homes in Wales “are 30 or 40 beds”.
The health committee has now set out 28 recommendations for the government in the event of future outbreaks, saying the pandemic “exposed serious weaknesses” in the country’s response.
The recommendations include ensuring that testing within care homes takes place on a “regular and systematic basis” and for tests to be administered by trained individuals rather than relying on workers using home testing kits.
Other recommendations include improving “unimpressive” timings for turning around test results to within 24 hours, stockpiling a sufficient amount of appropriate PPE for future outbreaks, and making sure major supermarkets can satisfy online food shopping demands for people who are shielding.
Dr Dai Lloyd MS, chair of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, said: “We must be better prepared, on all fronts, for the challenges ahead, especially during the coming winter period. A second wave does not have to be inevitable if lessons are learned from the past four months.
Following the report, Mario Kreft (pictured), chair of Care Forum Wales, said: “This report is essentially confirming what we knew already and what Care Forum Wales has been saying for months: that essentially care homes, their residents and staff inadvertently became collateral damage in a drive to protect the NHS from being overrun.
“A survey conducted by Care Forum Wales showed that 42% of care homes felt they were being put under pressure to admit hospital patients who were Covid-19 positive or without being tested.
“Where this occurred, it turned safe havens into coronavirus warzones.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We don’t accept the committee’s finding that care home residents have been badly let down. Our approach has been rooted in scientific evidence with the sole objective of saving lives, regardless of where people live.
“The Senedd’s health committee has focused on testing, which is just one part of our response. We have provided a wide range of support, including extra nursing staff where necessary and free PPE for care homes across Wales.
“Everyone working in social care has worked tirelessly to protect some of the most vulnerable people in Wales. We will continue to work with the sector to identify and provide any additional support it needs to respond to the virus.”
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