Sir Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS, said in Parliament that if any good is to come from the Covid-19 pandemic, it must be to “once and for all properly resource and reform the way in which social care works in this country.” He emphasised that the NHS was founded by the generation who had survived World War II, when austerity meant that even bread and potatoes were being rationed.
His statement in the House precipitated a war of words. Prime Minister Boris Johnson sparked angry responses when he implied that the thousands of Covid -19 care homes deaths were because, “too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures”.
Before anyone could suggest that the deaths could be connected to the 20,000 elderly patients transferred to care homes without testing for Covid-19, business secretary Alok Sharma explained that what the Prime Minister really meant was that “nobody at the time knew what the correct procedures were”. Later the Prime Minister said he took full responsibility for what had happened in care homes, saying that “the last thing I wanted to do was blame care workers.”
Weeks earlier, the Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, had admitted that the government had ‘'chosen' to protect the NHS over care homes, because there was not enough coronavirus testing capacity”, and Mario Kreft, the chairman of the Care Forum Wales said that “care homes, their residents and staff inadvertently became collateral damage in a drive to protect the NHS from being overrun”.
Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Forum, which represents 120 social care charities and of which Pilgrims’ Friend Society are a member, told BBC Newsnight that care homes followed the guidance “to the letter” but the government’s attention had been focused on hospitals.
Stop the political point scoring: this is about grandmothers and granddads
The war of words hides the fact that care homes are family spaces, caring for the most frail and vulnerable, where frail mums and dads and grandparents, including those with dementia, receive round-the-clock-care. It is also about the practical and spiritual support they receive so they can live full lives to the end. The district nurse who was called in when Jean, 101, was dying, was surprised to be asked if she knew where she would go when she died (and given the options), and Elsie, 86 and bedbound with only months to live, decided to knit blankets for Romanian orphans.
Many elderly residents are prayer warriors. Living like this can be enriching – an NHS Old Age consultant told a daughter that her mother’s condition would improve once she was in a care home because of the stimulation of others’ company, and good care from skilled carers. Families are blessed. Recently, as they walked in the garden, a son whose mother was dying told one of our managers that the tears in his eyes were not from sadness but because of the loving way his mother was being cared for.