Staff working for Greater Manchester’s mayor have repeatedly refused to say if he backs government plans that will see hospital patients with coronavirus discharged into care homes, even though he suggested to his own disabled advisers that he did not.
Andy Burnham (pictured) has been widely-praised for his high-profile complaints about the lack of central government financial support for the north of England during local lockdowns.
He also told his own panel of disabled advisers that hospital patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 should not be discharged into care homes in Greater Manchester, although the panel said later that he had agreed to further discussions on the issue with senior officers.
But when Disability News Service (DNS) tried to confirm that Burnham’s policy was to fight the government policy – which disabled activists from Manchester have described as “abhorrent” – his office repeatedly refused to clarify his position.
The policy will see patients in England who are set to be discharged from hospital into a care home after a positive COVID-19 test result admitted first to a “designated setting”.
They will have to be cared for in this designated setting – which must be approved by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – until the end of their isolation period.
Although some of the designated settings will be “stand-alone units” where only service-users with coronavirus will be admitted, others will be care homes which have “separate zoned accommodation and staffing” for service-users with coronavirus and other parts occupied by residents who have not been infected.
The policy, drawn up by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and approved by CQC, has alarmed disabled activists because it risks repeating the outcome of the scandal that occurred early in the pandemic, when hospital patients were discharged into care homes without being tested for COVID-19.
That government failing was believed to have caused the loss of thousands of lives of older and disabled people.
DNS first asked Burnham’s office to confirm his position on the policy last Wednesday (28 October).
An initial response did not arrive until the following Tuesday (3 November).
A Greater Manchester Combined Authority spokesperson said in that statement: “We can confirm that at the recent Disabled People’s Panel meeting the mayor said that COVID patients should not be discharged from hospital directly into care homes if they are still infectious.”
But the spokesperson then suggested that some patients could indeed be discharged into care homes, apparently in line with the government policy, without clarifying whether Burnham was or was not supporting that policy.
When asked to clarify the mayor’s position, a spokesperson said the mayor’s office had “no desire to add to the statement”, while providing some further confusing background information.
A further DNS attempt at clarification produced further “background” information that again failed to produce a simple answer on whether Burnham backed the government policy.
The spokesperson then called DNS for another “background” conversation, before Kevin Lee, director of the mayor’s office, called DNS yesterday (Wednesday) morning.
Lee spoke at length “off the record”, and when he refused to promise to produce a written statement confirming what he had said, DNS asked him to produce a clear, on-the-record response to whether Burnham supported the government policy.
He refused to do so, repeatedly referring back to his office’s earlier statements, which DNS had already told him were not clear.
Shabaaz Mohammed of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “The mayor did tell the disabled people’s panel that infectious people will not be put in care homes.
“Therefore [if that is the case] he doesn’t support government policy to return people who have COVID-19 to care homes.
“Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts are keen for his office and Greater Manchester to commit to that.
“We urge Andy to confirm formally that he is on the side of disabled people against the government’s deadly policy.
“Our demand, alongside disabled people across the country, is that only with a negative COVID test should people be discharged into care homes.
“Many residents died during the first wave; it must not happen again.”
A spokesperson for the panel said: “At last week’s meeting, as with all panel meetings, there was a frank and open discussion both between panel members and with Andy Burnham on a number of topics including care homes.
“The discussion at the meeting was productive, and it was agreed that we would continue this important discussion at our next meeting.
“The panel had the opportunity to raise its concerns around COVID and care homes, discuss the key issues, and have commitment from the mayor’s office that the required leaders would meet with the panel.”
Meanwhile, the Local Government Association (LGA) has made it clear that it supports the government policy.
Cllr Ian Hudspeth, chair of LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “The use of ‘zoned’ accommodation is not new, and such accommodation is often used in care homes to successfully manage outbreaks of infection, particularly in winter.
“Councils, providers and CQC are working incredibly hard on the issue of this designated accommodation in relation to COVID-19 and many councils have identified accommodation for CQC to approve.
“These decisions should not be rushed and DHSC must listen to all concerns that councils and their partners raise to ensure the policy developed is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution, and reflects each area’s individual circumstances.
“We are clear that councils must have the flexibility to adapt to the needs of their residents, including ensuring an individual’s wishes on discharge are enabled and that the scheme builds on local arrangements.
“If these conditions are met and it is the best approach for the individual, then we are not opposed to the use of ‘zoned’ accommodation to minimise the risk of cross-infection.”
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