We Airbrushed Those In Care Homes Out Of Our Minds Before This Crisis.

‘Out of site. Out of mind.’

That’s the approach we have taken to those in care homes for as long as I can remember.

Hidden from view, the only conversations about nursing care which ever entered the public consciousness, were about the costs and never seem to result in any policy changes.

The budget which took place on 11th March, like so many previous budgets, failed to mention social care.

Older people in care homes suffer from it being part of our culture that, unlike many others, we don’t like talking about death. We hide it away from view and try to pretend it won’t get us.  Aging is not something we want to know about. We approach it largely with dread.

For younger people in care homes – because of disability or other circumstance the same invisibility applies. It’s not something most of us know much about or want to.

Maybe it’s this same culture which has facilitated the situation we now find ourselves in where those in care homes – both residents and staff are being treated so badly now.

Those in care homes are particularly affected by the covid crisis. For reasons entirely understandable and sensible care homes have not allowed visitors since before the lockdown was implemented. 

Most concerning is the lack of transparency and clarity about the scale of the spread of the disease amongst those living in care homes 

Deaths in care homes are not counted in the figures reported to us daily.  Instead they are produced on a lag a week behind and only count those who have ‘corona’ recorded as the cause of death on their death certificate.  The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics , which include every community death linked to covid 19 showed a total of 406 such deaths registered up to 3 April. That would have added an extra 11% to the official UK figures, based solely on deaths in hospitals, that were being reported at that time.  Of those extra deaths, 217 took place in care homes, 33 in hospices, 136 in private homes, three in other communal establishments and 17 elsewhere.

Charity Age UK responded by saying coronavirus is “running wild” in care homes for elderly people. Caroline Abrahams, the charity’s director, said.

“The current figures are airbrushing older people out like they don’t matter.”

It is surely a source of national shame that any of our citizens can be forgotten like this – with their deaths treated as an add on to the rest – not meriting attention or enquiry.

It might be easy to assume those in care homes were close to death anyway, as if this somehow negates the severity of the situation for them. But many of them will have had years ahead of them were it not for the virus.

Then there is the appalling situation concerning PPE (personal protective equipment). We are over a month into this crisis, and we knew for a few months before that it was coming. There can be no justification as to why staff working in care homes are still without protective equipment whilst they perform intimate care tasks with no means of knowing how may have contracted the virus. of the 1.5 million people working in care homes only 505 have been tested for corona.

As Nadra Ahmed, chairwoman of the National Care Association, said “Once you run out, it is a question of being down to Marigolds and bin liners. Government has not reacted quickly enough to build confidence in the sector that PPE is available.”

In a further act of negligence the Government had removed VAT on essential PPE kit for the NHS but claimed it had not done the same for the social care sector. 

Then there is the treatment of staff in care homes. Caring is a very difficult job – physically and mentally. Yet most people working in care homes earn just the national minimum wage. This, surely, is indicative of how little regard we, as a society hold the care of our much vulnerable citizens.

Today Matt Hancock has said he wants to introduce a single brand for social care to ensure that carers get the same sort of priority treatment that NHS staff do in some settings. Care workers will be given a badge to identify them.

Does he not think most care workers would prefer an end to their poverty wages and terrible conditions (half of workers in the care sector are on zero hours contracts)?

When this is all over I sincerely hope many things are viewed differently. The invisibility of those in care homes and the lack of respect for those who work within them must end.

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