Care home residents abandoned due to ‘shockingly irresponsible’ decisions, report finds

A series of government failures put tens of thousands of older people’s lives at risk and led to violations of care home residents’ human rights, an Amnesty International investigation has concluded.

Its 52-page report, As If Expendable: The UK Government’s Failure to Protect Older People in Care Homes during the Covid-19 Pandemic, said despite knowledge of the increased risk of coronavirus to older people, the government ‘failed in several areas to take appropriate action to try to protect care home residents from the disease’.

It said poor decisions at both national and local levels had ‘serious negative consequences’ for the health and lives of older people in care homes, and resulted in the ‘infringement’ of their human rights.

Between 2 March and 12 June, 28,186 ‘excess deaths’ were recorded in care homes in England, with more than 18,500 residents confirmed to have died with Covid-19 during this period.

Care home managers and staff described to Amnesty’s investigation team ‘a complete breakdown’ of systems in the first six weeks of the pandemic response.

Quoting National Audit Office statistics, 25,000 people were sent untested from hospitals into care homes between 17 March and 25 April, putting at risk the health and lives of residents.

Amnesty International said these and other decisions taken by the government led to violations of human rights of older people in care homes; their right to life, right to health and right to non-discrimination.

Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK director, said: ‘The government made a series of shockingly irresponsible decisions which abandoned care home residents to die.

‘Discharged without being tested, thousands of older people were sent to care homes at great risk to themselves and other residents and to staff.

‘The appalling death toll was entirely avoidable – it is a scandal of monumental proportions.

‘As the country faces a second wave of coronavirus, we urgently need a full independent public inquiry into the care home scandal, so that lessons can be learned and lives protected, before any more lives are lost.’

As well as an inquiry, the human rights organisation is calling on the government to order a review of do not attempt resuscitation forms in care home residents’ care plans and medical files to ensure they were not imposed without due process; ensure residents have full access to NHS services they are entitled to; and make regular testing available to care home visitors, as well as to residents and staff.

The report found care homes faced challenges in accessing adequate testing to enable them to effectively identify, manage and prevent Covid-19 infections, while staff and managers interviewed by Amnesty ‘faced serious difficulties’ in obtaining PPE through their usual suppliers.

It added those responsible for ‘negligent decisions must be held to account.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Our position has always been clear that it is completely unacceptable for ‘do not attempt CPR’ decisions to be applied in a blanket fashion to any group of people, this has never been policy and we have taken consistent action to prevent this from happening.

‘From the start of the pandemic we have been doing everything we can to ensure care home residents and staff are protected. This includes testing all residents and staff, providing over 228 million 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.’