UK Covid policy on care homes violated human rights
Amnesty International has published a report As if Expendable which shows that the UK government adopted policies that “directly violated the human rights of older residents of care homes in England”. The report specifically highlighted the decision, in the early days of lockdown, to send elderly patients out of hospital and into care homes without being tested, putting other elderly care home residents at risk. This, Amnesty said, violated their rights to life, health and non-discrimination and, as one care home manager expressed, treated people who had made contributions to society throughout their lives as “expendable”.
More than 18,000 care home residents died with Covid-19, and Amnesty is calling for a public enquiry to start immediately in order that urgent lessons can be learned. Donatella Rovera, the author of Amnesty’s report told Channel 4 that the government “forgot about care homes” and that elderly patients were released from hospitals at very short notice into care homes which did not have mechanisms in place to support a protective environment for the most vulnerable. “Care home managers were unable to obtain PPE” and staff were not trained to deal with the crisis. She
The report also discovered that a number of care homes across the country were asked to insert Do Not Attempt Resuscitation (DNAR) forms into residents’ files as a “blanket approach”. One care home manager was told by the local Care Commissioning Group, “none of your patients over the age of 75 will be admitted to hospital”. Amnesty International UK’s Director, Kate Allen, said “The Government made a series of shockingly irresponsible decisions which abandoned care home residents to die”, calling it “a scandal of monumental proportions”.
Though, in theory, visits to care homes by families were allowed to begin again in July, access is still severely restricted due to lack of available testing, meaning that elderly and vulnerable people remain isolated. One dementia charity, John’s Campaign says care homes in England are still refusing face-to-face visits, which are essential for those with severe dementia. 70% of care home residents across the country have dementia, a neuro-degenerative disease that erodes a person’s sense of self and maintaining family connections are crucial for their survival. The charity understands the need for caution, but there are other risks besides Covid-19 and dementia sufferers needs should be taken into account.
In a separate case, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission is supporting Cathy Gardner in her action against health Secretary, Matt Hancock, seeking a judicial review into the government’s failure to protect care home residents. Mrs Gardner, who lost her father during the pandemic , is a member of the group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK , the same group Boris Johnson refused to meet in late August.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said “From the start of the pandemic, we have been doing everything we can to ensure care home residents and staff are protected”, adding “This includes testing all residents and staff, providing over 228m items of PPE ring-fencing over £1.1bn to prevent infections in care homes and making a further £3.7bn available to councils to address pressures caused by the pandemic – including in adult social care.” Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat Leader, Sir Ed Davy commented on the report, saying it was “an utterly damning indictment of the way in which this Conservative government has treated some of the most vulnerable in our society”.
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