As the government begins to talk about slowly lifting lockdown restrictions, it is important that we translate the lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic into substantial and positive policy. As the nation’s most loved policy-derived institution, the NHS, rose from the ashes of the Second World War, we must now urgently set about building a National Care Service out of the destruction of coronavirus.
The care system isn’t fit to tackle a public health emergency
The virus has exposed the extent to which the care system as it currently stands is not fit for purpose. While the hospital death rate is plateauing, the rate of deaths in care homes continues to rise, with disputes about the actual number between the Government and Care England. Care England, the biggest manager of care homes in the country, said at one point that it believed the death toll to be five times that of government figures. The current government figure puts the coronavirus death toll in care homes at over 5,000 in the ONS’s most recently published stats, and even this more conservative figure represents over a sixth of all UK deaths at that time.
Staff in care homes have been forced to risk their own health to continue their duties as key workers, in many cases without adequate personal protective equipment. While criticism over NHS workers’ insufficient PPE has rightly been all over the news, the lack of PPE for care workers has largely been overlooked. You would be forgiven for thinking that the UK care sector is smaller than the NHS; you would be wrong. The coronavirus death toll of workers in the care sector now stands at double that of their NHS counterparts. It seems they need more than a badge to be given the parity of safety with NHS workers.
This lack of parity is further summed up by the time taken until the government were forced to include care home deaths in the national coronavirus death stats, over six weeks after the start of lockdown. This confusion is only the most recent example of our chaotic social care system and how neglected it is in public life and public policy.
The care system isn’t fit for purpose at all
The issues that the coronavirus pandemic has exposed in the care sector predate the outbreak of the pandemic. The care sector has been deprioritized, underfunded, understaffed, and under-resourced for far too long. Local councils’ budgets have been cut by £7.7bn since 2010, and consequently many care homes have either closed or been handed over to the fragmented private sector. Actual funding for social care has decreased 10% over 10 years, despite substantial increase in demand. There is a staff shortage of 100,000.
These cutbacks have consequences. While the death rates makes for uncomfortable reading, the real impact of coronavirus will only be understood when we look at the total number of deaths, including of those denied care because of the NHS’s emergency response to the virus. In the care sector alone, there has been a 220% increase in total deaths since the outbreak of the virus in the UK.
As we celebrated the 75th VE Day and our national heroes over the weekend, some of the last people to through the Second World War were losing their lives in care homes, with minimal acknowledgement. Just as the NHS was created in recognition of the victims and survivors of that war, so too we need to create an NCS to support those fighting coronavirus, both cared-for and carers.
The Whitehouse team are experts in providing public affairs advice and political analysis to a wide range of clients engaging with health and social care providers and policy makers, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the member states of the European Union and beyond. For more information, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at firstname.lastname@example.org.