Boris Johnson tonight vowed to ‘reverse rapidly’ the coronavirus outbreaks raging in Britain’s care homes.
In his address to the nation this evening, the Prime Minister said there is ‘much more work to be done’ in tackling the ‘awful epidemics’ in both care homes and in the NHS.
The virus has devastated homes for the elderly, with experts warning cases are pushing up the UK’s average rate of infection, or R, and are providing one of the biggest barriers to lifting the lockdown.
One of the aims of the lockdown was to lower the R to below one. It is believed to be between 0.5 and 0.9 at the moment, though there are fears the care home epidemic could push it back to one.
The government has come under increasing pressure for its handling of the care home crisis, which has cost the lives of thousands of elderly residents, with ONS data suggesting as many as 6,000 had died from the virus.
It estimates that one in five of all UK coronavirus casualties have been in care homes.
In his speech tonight, the Prime Minister acknowledged the horrific impact of the virus on care homes and said: ‘We must reverse rapidly the awful epidemics in care homes and in the NHS, and though the numbers are coming down sharply now, there is plainly much more to be done.’
Boris Johnson said tonight that more needs to be done to reverse the coronavirus outbreak in care homes
The virus has ravaged care homes in the UK, with thousands of residents thought to have died. Pictured is the Care UK Oak House care home in Slough
Mr Johnson added that increased testing will help to tackle the outbreaks in both settings.
He said: ‘If we are to control this virus, then we must have a world-beating system for testing potential victims, and for tracing their contacts.
‘So that – all told – we are testing literally hundreds of thousands of people every day.
‘We have made fast progress on testing – but there is so much more to do now, and we can.’
He added: ‘We have the R below one, between 0.5 and 0.9 – but potentially only just below one.
‘With ever increasing data, we will be monitoring the R and the number of new infections, and the progress we are making, and if we as a nation begin to fulfil the conditions I have set out, then in the next few weeks and months we may be able to go further [in easing lockdown].’
Responding to the address, the general secretary of Unison, Dave Prentis, warned: ‘If safety isn’t paramount, then infections will increase and there’ll be a second wave that risks overwhelming the NHS and social care.’
He says many health, care and other key workers use trains, buses and the Tube to get to work, saying their safety ‘must not be compromised by crowded public transport’.
And he says the government ‘must ensure the NHS and the care sector have guaranteed supplies of protective equipment and there’s a comprehensive test, track and trace programme in place before any mass return to work’.
Dr Ron Daniels, an intensive care consultant based in Birmingham, said: ‘The reality is that the effect of a second wave is just so unknown that it is too risky in most health professionals’ view to relax lockdown right now.
‘We would like to see our capacity in NHS hospitals back down to below usual levels before we can safely do that.’
‘Do we have enough beds to cope with a second wave if lockdown is relaxed too much? Absolutely not. We’re still over our usual capacity.’
When the number of COVID-19 patients dying was at its highest in hospitals, around April 8, it was still relatively low in care homes, which then surged in the days and weeks following
A worker at Newfield Nursing Home in Sheffield tenderly holding hands with an elderly resident Jack Dodsley
He added: ‘The relative impact of any second wave all depends on how many members of our public have already been exposed to this novel coronavirus. Of course, we don’t know.
‘It may be, as some optimistic estimates suggest, as high as 60-80% of the public who have been exposed. That would mean that a lot of people had had exposure to (the virus) and not developed symptoms and just gone about their lives as normal.
‘But the more pessimistic, the more wary estimates, suggest that somewhere under 10% of our population have been exposed.
‘If that’s true, then we expect the second wave – if lockdown is relaxed too quickly and too aggressively – could even be bigger than the first.’
The Prime Minister said the government ‘will not hesitate to put on the brakes’ if the virus starts to spread widely again.
Sir Keir Starmer told Sky News that the Labour Party had pushed the Government to ‘speed up’ its response to the pandemic.
He added: ‘We pushed the Government on lockdown, we pushed them on testing, we pushed them on PPE.
‘Now we pushed and challenged with the purpose, which was to try to get them to speed up.
‘And I said that under my leadership we’re not out to score party political points.
‘So it was to get them to speed up and to ramp up.’
Earlier this week, workers claimed that care homes are still struggling to get enough PPE despite the deaths of nearly 6,000 residents.
Bosses say the requirement to wear PPE at all times while working in care homes, coupled with increased costs, mean that supplies often run out extremely quickly.
The UK’s current rate of infection, or R. The care homes epidemic is believed to be pushing the UK’s R rate up
The five tests that need to be met for coronavirus lockdown restrictions to be relaxed in the UK
A shortage of PPE has been a consistent issue from staff in care homes since the pandemic began, with Unison yesterday revealing it has received almost 3,600 reports about access to PPE from workers through its PPE alert web form.
The government has been lambasted in recent weeks for its attempts to deliver the protective equipment to frontline staff and also for the lack of routine testing available in care homes.
The ONS bulletin, released weekly, showed last week that one in five of all people who have died so far in the crisis have been care home residents. Some 5,890 people in homes succumbed to the disease by April 24.
By April 24, a total of 5,890 people had died in care homes with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, out of a total of 27,356 people (21.5 per cent).
The 27,356 is lower than the 29,710 total for that date because of a recording cut-off.
The scale of care home deaths is expected to continue rising as the National Records of Scotland last week revealed that 39 per cent of victims there have been in nursing homes.
Elderly people and those with long-term health issues are known to be the most at risk of the virus and close proximity living makes outbreaks difficult to stop.
Deaths in care homes also appeared to keep accelerating after the virus deaths peaked in England’s hospitals, ONS data shows.
Officials have previously warned that levels of coronavirus infection are likely to be at least five times higher among hospital and care home staff than in the wider population.
They are ‘particularly worried’ about healthcare workers picking up the disease and spreading it among the wider community or to other patients.
Ministers have been told they need to ‘get on top’ of this urgently before the lockdown can be lifted.
Earlier, hospitals were accused of trying to ’emotionally blackmail’ care homes into taking back coronavirus patients by leaving them by the gates.
Paramedics were said to have left pensioners at their homes in the early morning with no staff around.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has been told that several hospitals returned people despite suspecting – or even knowing – they were infected (pictured: Clinical staff care for a patient with coronavirus)
A care home boss in the north of England told the Sunday Mirror: ‘The hospitals call and say that the residents are positive but just want to go back to their homes.
‘We stand firm but it feels like emotional blackmail.’
It comes following revelations that hospitals may have broken the law by sending patients with coronavirus back to care homes without telling their managers they had the virus.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has been told that several hospitals returned people despite suspecting – or even knowing – they were infected.
These patients triggered outbreaks in homes, claiming the lives of other vulnerable residents.
Care home outbreaks ‘leaking’ out to public
Coronavirus outbreaks in care homes are now ‘leaking’ back into the community and driving the epidemic, Government advisers have said.
Experts say widespread cases in care homes are pushing up the UK’s average transmission rate and are providing one of the biggest barriers to lifting the lockdown.
The stark warning highlights how the failure to protect Britain’s care homes from the virus has not only cost the lives of thousands of elderly residents, but has also had devastating consequences for the entire population.
Senior officials have warned that levels of coronavirus infection are likely to be at least five times higher among hospital and care home staff than in the wider population.
They are ‘particularly worried’ about healthcare workers picking up the disease and spreading it among the wider community or to other patients. Ministers have been told they need to ‘get on top’ of this urgently before the lockdown can be lifted.
Rachel Beckett, of Wellburn Care Homes, said: ‘Hospitals have told us we were breaking the law by not taking positive patients, which is not the case.’
She said one resident at one of Wellburn’s 14 homes in the north went to hospital and tested positive – but was sent back still showing symptoms.
Ms Beckett said the home would not admit her until she was negative but paramedics ‘put pressure’ on staff ‘to the point where they were becoming emotional’.
She added that relatives of the women were very upset, and the home eventually admitted her but she was still positive one week later.
Ms Beckett said that in another incident a resident was sent back at 3am ‘because there was nobody to say no’.
The CQC is investigating after being informed by care home managers that hospitals discharged patients into their premises without telling them they had the disease.
Kate Terroni, the watchdog’s chief inspector of adult social care, said: ‘We have heard of a few incidents where this has happened and it has resulted in infections spreading to other residents in the care home.
‘In cases where it looks like the information wasn’t disclosed by the hospital, we are looking at whether the hospital breached their regulations and whether we can take action. It’s an issue we take really seriously.’
The CQC enforces a series of regulations, enshrined in law, that health and adult social care services in England must comply with. Breaching some of these rules is a criminal offence and the watchdog can bring prosecutions.
The CQC is also investigating whether care home residents have died from noncoronavirus conditions due to a lack of visits from GPs.
Chief executive of Care England, Professor Martin Green, said hospitals are discharging people at night because there will not be senior staff there to resist it.
Coronavirus cases and deaths in hospitals have continued to gradually decline, with today’s death toll standing at 269, the lowest for six weeks.
However, the weekend always sees a drop in daily deaths, with 626 recorded on Thursday.
‘So we can go to work but can’t see our family?’ Furious Britons hit out at Boris Johnson after PM urged nation to ‘go back to work’ but asked them to maintain social distancing with people outside their household
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under fire after he urged the nation to return to work this evening – but also asked people to maintain social distancing and only interact with people in their own households.
The conflicting advice has led to fury online, with devastated Britons questioning why they are expected to mix with work colleagues while avoiding close family and friends.
The Prime Minister also urged people to avoid public transportation, alongside the order to return to work.
Piers Morgan led the criticism, posting on social media: ‘So, the Prime Minister is urging millions of non-essential workers to go out to work – but also telling people we still can’t see family or friends even if we maintain the same social distancing rules as non-essential workers at work?
‘Makes no sense. I can drive 100s of miles to sunbathe alongside complete strangers on a beach, maintaining 2m distance – but not see my parents? This is ridiculous.
‘I haven’t seen two of my sons for 10 weeks. They live 10 minutes away, next to a large common. Am I allowed to go and see them, if I stay 2 metres away? The answer appears to be no, yet I can see 1000s of strangers a day in my local park if I stay 2m away
‘Do I have to get my sons & myself temporary jobs on a building site so I can see them?’
A father wrote: ‘So I can’t see family, I can teach a class of kids but distanced, I can’t send my son to nursery as it’s closed and he can’t go to his grandparents but it’s okay, I can play sport with him!’
One person added: ‘Can’t see my boyfriend, friends or family yet but I can go to work but I shouldn’t take public transport to get there ?? Ok Boris.’
A second said: ‘So nothing is mentioned about friends and family again?! And he wonders why people are not sticking to lockdown.
‘Jesus throw us a bone over here. Almost 2 months!!!
While a third wrote: ‘Boris Johnson, so one thing you didn’t mention.. When can we see our family again? We can go and chill in the park, sit on benches in the sun and some can go to work.. but we can’t see our loved ones?’