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How could watchdogs fail so spectacularly to keep care home residents and staff safe?

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Care homes are the focus of the COVID-19 outbreak in England and Wales. At least 40% of all coronavirus deaths have occurred in the very places dedicated to keeping people safe in their later years.

The under-reporting of deaths, the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing available to staff, and the total focus on the NHS at the expense of the social care sector have all contributed to an estimated 22,000 deaths in care homes – places that government had originally advised were “very unlikely” to experience infection.

But how could care homes have been failed so badly, and what checks and balances should have been in place to prevent this?

Care homes in England are regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). One of its key responsibilities is to carry out inspections and visits to ensure providers meet fundamental standards of quality and safety; however, as of 16 March, the regulator stopped all routine inspections to “focus on supporting providers to deliver safe care during the pandemic”.

Had the CQC continued its inspections, it would have been in a position to challenge cases where PPE was being diverted away from care homes to the NHS, and to aid struggling homes in their battle to secure tests for staff and residents. Instead, care homes have effectively been left to fend for themselves.

On top of this, the CQC joined similar bodies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in refusing to publish detailed data on care home deaths, arguing instead for a need to “avoid confusion” and to protect “the privacy and confidentiality of those who have died and their families”.

Families and the wider public have a right to know when and where COVID-19 outbreaks are happening, and this lack of transparency is deeply troubling.

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Source: The Guardian, 1 June 2020

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