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MPs: C-19 response had ‘devastating and preventable repercussions’

The government and the NHS both failed adequately to recognise the significant risks to the social care sector at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, according to a report by the Committees of Science and Technology and Health and Social Care.

The ‘Coronavirus: lessons learned to date’ report, which examines the UK’s initial response to the Covid pandemic, also found SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) either did not have sufficient representation from social care or did not give enough weight to the impact on the social care sector.

This, coupled with staff shortages, a lack of sufficient testing and PPE, and the design of care settings to enable communal living hampered isolation and infection control, meant that some care providers were unable to respond to risks as effectively as they should, MPs said.

“This had devastating and preventable repercussions for people receiving care and their families and put staff providing social care at risk,” they added.

Between 16 March 2020 and 30 April 2021, 41,675 care home residents died of Covid-19, which amounts to over a quarter of all Covid deaths in England over the same period.

The report went on to say that the lack of priority attached to social care during the initial phase of the pandemic was illustrative of a longstanding failure to afford social care the same attention as the NHS.

The rapid discharge of people from hospitals into care homes without adequate testing or rigorous isolation was indicative of the disparity, it said.

“It is understandable that the government should move quickly to avoid hospitals being overwhelmed but it was a mistake to allow patients to be transferred to care homes without the rigour shown in places like Germany and Hong Kong.

“This, combined with untested staff bringing infection into homes from the community, led to many thousands of deaths which could have been avoided.”

The report recommends ministers address the lack of knowledge and experience of social care within the Department of Health and Social Care and senior levels of the NHS.

MPs said prominence of the sector within the department should be enhanced and ensure that future policy and guidance relating to the sector is well-informed and reflects the diversity of the sector.

The department must also set out how it plans to retain the expertise of the Social Care Taskforce on a more permanent basis, they added.

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