Lords debate Care Home deaths

My speech can be found here. The audio of the debate is here.

“I have three questions for the Government; they are very simple and I am happy to have written answers if necessary.

Like many other noble Lords, I am shocked that the Government were so late in taking action to shield those in care homes, in the same way that they were late in banning mass gatherings. Ministers focused on hospital deaths because that is what their press conference graphs focused on. The result is that at least a thousand people died in care homes prior to the Easter weekend. There was a failure to provide adequate supplies of PPE to care homes. It has been an example of how a Government really should not behave.

The government guidance provides for carers to protect themselves in the event that those they are caring for have symptoms. It provides protection where the person is classed as vulnerable due to cancer or respiratory conditions, but not if they are just old or infirm. It does not provide for the carers to regularly wear PPE when dealing with the elderly in care homes or in their own homes. This makes the shield less than watertight. It is amazing that some care home staff are sleeping in the care homes and effectively self-isolating in order to look after the people they care for, but obviously not all staff can do that.

Often a person being looked after in their own home will have contact with the outside world only via their carer and that makes the carer the sole source of any infection that occurs. The burden of responsibility on carers is huge, so the Government need to change their guidance—along with the supply of PPE—to reflect that. Will Ministers tighten up the guidance that carers operate under?

Secondly, the mass sending out of do-not-resuscitate letters to elderly patients was one of the more dubious decisions that has been made. I know that many GPs have wanted individual chats with patients and to shape their care accordingly, but Ministers need to clearly state that, if the elderly need and want hospital care, it will always be available. When entire care homes of patients are being expected to sign do-not-resuscitate notices, it can be taken as a clear message that they are expected to die in the care home and will not receive the treatment that perhaps younger people would. Has that practice stopped?

Can the Minister reassure the House that there is now real-time information about what is going on in care homes, so that we know exactly how many people are dying instead of the guesses that are coming so late? I understand the difficulties, but it is only when we really know the size of the problem that we will know how to deal with it.”