Disabled activists say that government plans to allow NHS patients infected with COVID-19 to be discharged into care homes this winter will repeat the failings that led to thousands of deaths of older and disabled people in the early stages of the pandemic.
The “safe discharge” measures are part of ministers’ new adult social care winter plan (see separate stories).
The plan says the Department of Health and Social Care is working with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) on a scheme that will decide which care homes “are safe for people leaving hospital who have tested positive for COVID-19 or are awaiting a test result”.
It says that no care home will be forced to accept such a patient “if they are unable to cope with the impact of the person’s COVID-19 illness safely”.
All patients now have to be tested for COVID-19 before they are discharged to a care home, and should then be isolated within their own room for 14 days after their admission, even after they test negative for the virus, according to government guidance (PDF).
But the new winter plan raises the prospect of patients found to be infected with COVID-19 being sent into care homes that were previously clear of the virus.
Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts (MDPAC) said it was “aghast” at the plans, which it says will simply repeat the disastrous failures that led to thousands of deaths of care home residents earlier this year.
Those who are infected, says MDPAC, should be cared for in separate, well-resourced care facilities that are only for patients infected with COVID-19, until they are clear of the virus.
Rick Burgess, of MDPAC, said: “This is about the right to life, and people’s right not to have their life endangered by a government that is not dealing with the pandemic in a responsible or competent way.
“They are looking again to use care homes as a pressure valve to protect the NHS from being over-run.
“There was a huge disproportionate death toll in care homes, and frankly we think that is going to happen again.
“Do something better than the first time, because the first time was a disaster.”
He added: “Care homes are not a dumping ground for infected people.
“They don’t think that we have equal rights, and that begins at the right to life, which is a pretty important right.”
MDPAC has launched a campaign to highlight the government’s plans and demand that they are changed.
They say the plans show the government has failed to learn lessons from the first weeks of the pandemic, when hospital patients were discharged into care homes without being tested for COVID-19, causing the loss of thousands of lives.
MDPAC has launched a petition to highlight the concerns, but it also plans further action, including contacting its local authorities to plead with them to refuse to carry out such “negligent” measures and promise instead that only people who do not have COVID-19 are allowed to enter the care home system.
Further MDPAC actions could include COVID-safe protests, and it is reaching out to other organisations to join its campaign.
It is also encouraging disabled campaigners across the country to contact their own local directors of adult social services to ask them to “do better than the national guidance”.
CQC had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday).
But Clenton Farquharson, chair of the Think Local Act Personal partnership and the service-user representative on the Social Care Sector COVID-19 Support Taskforce, which fed into the government’s winter action plan, defended the government’s measures.
He said the taskforce and winter plan were “a genuine attempt to provide guidance for the sector aimed at keeping people safe and limiting the spread of the virus.
“No one is saying they are perfect, and certainly not me.
“Of course, there are some very real and difficult issues around balancing risks with rights and people’s wellbeing, as in the scenario you paint.
“The guidance needs to be applied sensitively with local organisations working carefully and closely with people and family carers at all times.”
A DHSC spokesperson said: “No care home will be forced to admit an existing or new resident to the care home if they do not feel they can provide the appropriate care.
“Our priority remains to ensure that everyone, including those with disabilities, is discharged safely from hospital to the most appropriate place, and that they continue to receive the care and support they need.
“Last week we announced over half a billion pounds extra funding for care providers to reduce COVID-19 transmission and help protect residents and staff throughout winter.”
*For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
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