This was illustrated early on by the “appalling error” committed when 25,000 patients were discharged from hospitals into care homes without ensuring all were first tested for COVID-19 – even after there was clear evidence of asymptomatic transmission of the virus.
Thanks to the commitment of thousands of staff and volunteers and by postponing a large amount of planned work, the NHS was – just – able to weather the “severe and immense” challenges to health and social care services in England and meet overall demand for COVID-19 treatment during the pandemic’s April peak – “unfortunately, it has been a very different story for adult social care”.
The Committee is particularly concerned about staff in health and social care “who have endured the strain and trauma of responding to COVID-19 for many months” and who are now expected to “cope with future peaks and also deal with the enormous backlogs that have built up”.
Failure to protect staff by providing adequate PPE has hit staff morale and confidence, while a lack of timely testing led to increased stress and absence. These same staff will be called upon in the event of a second peak and the NHS will need extra staff to deal with the backlog of treatment.
As well as its calls for a “second wave ready” plan, for health and the economy, the Committee expects an account to be provided in September of the spending under “policies designed to create additional capacity quickly” which – while necessary, especially in the haste the Government was acting in – have resulted in “a lack of transparency about costs and value for money”.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
“The failure to provide adequate PPE or testing to the millions of staff and volunteers who risked their lives to help us through the first peak of the crisis is a sad, low moment in our national response. Our care homes were effectively thrown to the wolves, and the virus has ravaged some of them.
“Vulnerable people surviving the first wave have been isolated for months, in the absence of a functional tracing and containment system. Yet there were bold and ambitious claims made by ministers about the roll out of test, track and trace that don’t match the reality.
“The deaths of people in care homes devastated many, many families. They and we don’t have time for promises and slogans, or exercises in blame. We weren’t prepared for the first wave. Putting all else aside, Government must use the narrow window we have now to plan for a second wave. Lives depend upon getting our response right.”