As we’re approaching the tail end of the virus outbreak now, the claws are out as a new wave of politicization nears its peak. Amongst the fallout of the recent Dominic Cummings scandal, his excursion up to Durham is the perfect cover (at least temporarily) to mask the dismal performance in Britain’s care homes. Funny how he received markedly worse treatment than Neil Ferguson, the man whose models showed the UK would have 500k deaths and broke quarantine to cheat on his wife – but that’s another matter.
As of May 9th, England’s percentage of COVID-19 deaths in care/nursing homes was about 21% with Scotland and Wales both seeing about 25% of deaths coming from these homes. With a staggering percentage, it’s important to look at the reasons why this is the case and hold the Tories feet over the fire for neglecting this particular issue.
The fetishization of ‘Protect the NHS’
Phase one of coronavirus mitigation saw the conservative government push out a seemingly meaningless, yet catchy response – Stay at home, Protect the NHS, save lives. This was a problem right from the get-go. The hysteria and fear injected into the public came as a result of a classic Neil Ferguson projection saying that 500k people would die if we did nothing. The focus was therefore not on saving lives necessarily but preventing the NHS from going over capacity.
Doing this would indeed save lives, but it’s also been costing them. People have succumbed to the constant fearmongering around the ‘killer’ or ‘deadly’ and have opted out of going to the hospital. Urgent cancer referrals and treatments are down 25% from usual levels. The Guardian pointed out that as of May 8th, 8,000 people have died in their homes since the start of the pandemic. 80% of that total were completely unrelated to coronavirus and were commonly perishing from strokes and heart failure. This sparked doctor concerns that cancer patients and those at risk of these ailments were being ‘deprioritised’ in favour of making capacity more readily available for COVID-19 patients.
The problem with the messaging is this prioritisation of the health of the NHS over the health of its citizens, on the face of it. The issue with this is clear – other diseases and ailments didn’t just sit idly by and watch coronavirus do its thing; they were still very much present. People avoided ‘bugging’ the NHS, cancer patients’ treatments were being pushed back by months at a time and A&E visits were down 40%. People were effectively avoiding burdening the NHS for pretty serious conditions, symptoms, and injuries. Putting it bluntly, the idea we were there to serve the NHS and not the other way around (like it should be) has cost us a lot of lives.
Not only did this scare people into not coming in, it incentivised kicking people out. This over fetishized dramatization that the NHS was going to exceed capacity and that Ferguson’s insane predictions might be realised, helped push some truly unforgivable policy. After leaders within the NHS called for more capacity, it was announced that people who were being discharged from hospitals didn’t need a negative COVID-19 test to go back to care homes. They didn’t need a negative test even if they were in hospital due to COVID-19.
The protect the NHS mantra combined with this obsession for capacity and failure to acknowledge that old people were more at risk (which we knew since January and could have guessed with common sense) lead to quite literally human time-bombs being escorted back into homes – and the government, media and many of us were blind to it.
The disregarding of the elderly
As a nation, we’ve disregarded the old. Under almost every discussion about our ‘aging population’ and how we mitigate it, the elderly are treated as a burden or a problem we just have to simply get out of the way. On a societal level, this crisis was no mistake – it was inevitable.
Part of the reason is the media and lockdowns themselves. The media, the government and those in the Twittersphere spent far too much time covering #COVIDIOTS, over-enforcing lockdowns and fearmongering to notice that the problem was going to run through care homes if left unchecked. And it did.
We knew that this was disproportionately killing old people. So why were they not the primary focus? Instead we pursued hard lockdowns for everyone, prioritising the NHS over individuals and spreading a narrative that everybody is equally at risk. If the attention was put on making sure old people were being looked after, cared for and shielded against the virus, a far brighter outcome could have been achieved.
The COVID-19 outbreak has done nothing but exacerbate and highlight the shoddy state of the UK’s elderly care system which has not only been perpetually lied about but deliberately swept aside.
Health and social care state secretary, Matt Hancock insisted on several occasions that a “ring of protection” had been put around them, when it was clear that they had fallen short when it came to supplying PPE to them.
Boris Johnson was also caught lying about care homes after saying they had been locked down way before the mainstream restrictions were put in place when it was clear they hadn’t. Care home guidelines and legislation only came in about 2 weeks after the mainstream lockdown restrictions were enforced.
So, what has the administration achieved? A sustained lockdown and a policy that put the NHS system ahead of citizens – resulting in many unnecessarily lost lives. With the help of adamant ‘pro-lockdowners’ and the media helping to push a narrative that we were all at risk when it was evident elderly people were far more at risk – they failed to arm the medical sectors dealing directly with the elderly. All this and they continued to lie about the state of the problem and acknowledging the problems.
Like with every crisis, it isn’t all fault of the government. Blame certainly has to go out to the media and proponents of hard and fast lockdowns for contributing to the hysteria. But after claiming they were going to tackle the problem with a calm level head, they’ve u-turned over every bit of criticism and ultimately caved into mass hysteria. Cow-towing to the opposition, allowing hysteria to cloud judgment and over-prioritisation of the NHS has led to some bad calls.
They shouldn’t be allowed to forget this one – hopefully some lessons can be taken away.