UK officials 'put lives at risk' over out-of-date PPE for care homes

Amelia Hill
·5-min read

The National Care Association has accused the government of putting lives at risk by issuing false reassurance to care homes about out-of-date PPE at the height of the pandemic.

The body, which represents independent care homes, said it was appalled to discover official guidance that stated masks past their expiry date had been tested and were fit for purpose, was not correct.

(February 25, 2020) 

Public Health England issues guidance stating that it was “very unlikely” care homes would become infected. The guidance was not withdrawn until 12 March.

(March 31, 2020) 

Despite a lack of official statistics about fatalities, care homes warn that they are at “breaking point” and MHA, the country’s biggest charitable provider, says it has suspected cases in more than half of its facilities.

(April 2, 2020) 

The Department of Health and Social are guidelines on discharging hospital patients into care homes states: “Negative tests are not required prior to transfers/admissions into the care home.”

(April 14, 2020) 

Chief medical adviser Chris Whitty says that more than one in ten care homes (13.5%) now has at least one case of Covid-19. Whitty says: “Care homes are one of the areas where there are large numbers of vulnerable people and that is an area of risk and therefore we would very much like to have much more extensive testing.”

(April 15, 2020) 

Testing is expanded into care homes but only for people with symptoms.

(April 21, 2020) 

Five of the largest care home providers say they have now recorded a total of at least 1,052 deaths

(April 28, 2020) 

Care home deaths are included alongside deaths in hospitals after a sharp rise of more than 4,300 deaths over a fortnight in England and Wales. Testing is extended to staff and residents without symptoms.

(May 3, 2020) 

Launch of a national delivery system for personal protective equipment to care homes is hit by a delay of up to three weeks

(May 13, 2020) 

Academics report that more than 22,000 care home residents in England and Wales may have died as a direct or indirect result of Covid-19 – more than double the number stated in official figures.

(May 18, 2020) 

An unpublished government study which used genome tracking to investigate outbreaks revealed that temporary care workers transmitted Covid-19 between care homes as cases surged. In evidence raising further questions about ministers’ claims to have “thrown a protective ring around care homes”, it emerged that agency workers – often employed on zero-hours contracts – unwittingly spread the infection as the pandemic grew, according to the study by Public Health England.

(June 11, 2020) 

A report by care homes bosses says that thousands of people lost their lives “prematurely” because care homes in England lacked the protective equipment and financial resources to cope with the coronavirus outbreak.

Nadra Ahmed, executive chair of NCA, also said the wrong advice could mean care homes’ coronavirus insurance might be void, putting them at risk of potentially ruinous financial consequences.

She said: “We had members contact us about the dates on the boxes they received and we sought clarifications on their behalf. We were told that they had been tested and were safe for use

“We are appalled that due care and attention was not given to the risk of using these masks,” she added. “The masks have been used in services where there were already outbreaks and the consequence don’t bear thinking about.”

The masks were sent to every care home in the country at the peak of the pandemic. At the time, stock was being diverted to the NHS and care providers were unable to access supplies of masks from their normal supply chains.

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When the NCA raised a query that these masks were from a government stockpile and out of date by as much as seven years, they said the official response was that the masks had all been rechecked and were in working order.

“In reality, we now learn, they were faulty and have only just been recalled – when most will already have been used months ago,” said Ahmed.

In a recall notice issued by the Department of Health and Social Care on 26 June, care homes were told they must immediately stop using the Cardinal Health IIR masks and destroy them because of “a risk to staff” if the masks degrade.

Ahmed said: “We face continued challenges as a sector because Covid-19 is still within communities. Insurers are taking Covid cover out of their policies on renewal whilst raising the costs to cover the businesses. Clearly, government will have to take full responsibility and liability for any backlash caused by their actions.”

Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said the incident had put staff and residents at risk, as well as putting homes at risk of serious financial consequences. “This clearly shows that some of the advice given by government throughout the pandemic turns out not to have been the right advice.

“I don’t know how the government got it so wrong but we need to know who told care homes the equipment was safe, who gave them their advice and how that advice was so wrong,” he added.

Both Ahmed and Green said the incident showed that the “protective ring” the government said had been thrown up around care homes was anything but protective.

“Once again we note that care providers were at the back of the queue ,” said Ahmed.

Green added, “I have never believed in this protective ring because I’ve never seen a single example of it. This incident is yet more evidence that it never existed.”

Sky News reported that the same masks were issued to GP surgeries and have also now been withdrawn, leading to concerns that thousands of medical and care staff may have been affected.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The safety of frontline staff has been a priority throughout this unprecedented pandemic.

“After being made aware of a defect with some Cardinal Health Type IIR surgical masks, we urgently issued advice last week to health and care providers to check if their stock included these masks and to dispose of them. The issue is now resolved”.