“Kill the Oldies. Save the NHS.” Perhaps Boris Johnson should think of adopting this for his next slogan because it’s what his government has done. In fact, it’s the second most scandalous aspect of his record so far in dealing with the Chinese coronavirus.
The scandal, essentially, is this: on March 19 the UK government issued an order to the NHS quickly to clear out 15,000 patients to make way for the expected surge in patients with Covid-19. Many of these were elderly patients who had nowhere to go save care homes. Some of these patients were already infected with coronavirus and instead of being isolated — as they should have been — they were instead sent to the very place where they were likely to do the most damage: residential homes full of people in the worst at-risk category.
So far, more than 8,000 people have died in care homes with Covid-19. This represents around a quarter of the total coronavirus deaths in the UK so far. We cannot be sure how many of these deaths can be attributed to the government’s panicked decision to dump elderly patients from hospitals into care homes. But the government undoubtedly bears a degree of culpability.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is currently denying responsibility.
Last week, he told a press conference:
“Right from the start we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes. We set out our first advice in February… we’ve made sure care homes have the resources they need”.
But as Richard North points out at EU Referendum, this is simply untrue.
He notes that as late as April 2, the government was blithely insisting ‘that patients with Covid-19, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, could be safely accepted in care homes.’
Here is the official document that proves it.
As part of the national effort, the care sector also plays a vital role in accepting patients as they are discharged from hospital – both because recuperation is better in non-acute settings, and because hospitals need to have enough beds to treat acutely sick patients. Residents may also be admitted to a care home from a home setting. Some of these patients may have COVID-19, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic. All of these patients can be safely cared for in a care home if this guidance is followed.
As North says:
Not by any imagining, and not in any conceivable way could it be said that the Department of Health or the NHS tried to throw a “protective ring” around care homes.
Quite to the contrary, the NHS hospitals sought to protect themselves from being “overwhelmed”, by the simple expedient of dumping thousands of vulnerable patients onto the care sector, spreading the infection to thousands of others who were least able to defend themselves from it.
North is right on this one, though not, I think, on the bigger picture. Unlike him, I believe the lockdown should end immediately because I don’t think there is sufficient evidence to justify this extraordinary assault on liberty nor all the wanton damage that is being done to the economy.
But I’m glad he is driving home with his characteristic subtlety, charm and wit just how badly the government has been dealing with the pandemic.
It seems a fairly basic point that if care homes are the location for the most at-risk category of people vulnerable to coronavirus then far more thought should have been given to protecting them.
Almost every government has made mistakes in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. Even Sweden — increasingly praised for its non-lockdown policy which enabled it to build herd immunity while doing less damage to its economy — has admitted that it should have done more to protect the elderly in care homes.
But mistakes are only forgivable when governments fess up and show evidence that they’ve learned from them.
Hancock’s insistence in that interview that the government has done nothing wrong suggests that Britain is still run by an administration far more interested in covering its arse than in doing the right thing.
The same point was made more eloquently at the weekend by former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption, when he wrote in the Sunday Times:
The lockdown is now all about protecting politicians’ backs. They are not wicked men, just timid ones, terrified of being blamed for deaths on their watch. But it is a wicked thing that they are doing.
Sumption also makes the point that the government’s priorities are all wrong:
The lockdown was originally justified as a temporary measure to spread coronavirus infections over a longer period. This was to allow time for the NHS’s critical care capacity to catch up. Hence the slogan ‘Protect the NHS’
It was never much of a rationale. The NHS is there to protect us, not the other way round.
It used to be said that however disappointing Boris Johnson and his crew might turn out to be, at least Britain dodged the far bigger bullet at the last election of being run by the dilapidated Marxist Jeremy Corbyn.
But I’m not sure this is true any more. At least if Corbyn had been in charge right now, there would have been a Conservative opposition ready to hold him to account, calling for the end of the lockdown, warning of the grave damage being done to the economy, and so on.
Instead, we voted Conservative and just got incompetent socialism all the same.