SADLY, we had a number of coronavirus deaths in our local care homes.
The staff have been doing a heroic and very stressful job – and this week we heard some fascinating evidence at the House of Commons Select Committee about how to make our care homes safer during a pandemic.
We heard from Hong Kong, where there have been no coronavirus deaths in care homes and no infections either – pretty impressive for a city so close and with so many ties to mainland China.
We also heard from Germany, which has had one-quarter of our deaths in care homes. Both countries hold important lessons for us.
Hong Kong was very scarred by the SARS epidemic in 2003 which saw a number of deaths in care homes.
Since then every care home has stocked one to three months’ supply of protective equipment (PPE) and has regular pandemic practice exercises. They have a named person responsible in every care home for pandemic infection prevention and control.
In Germany they took more trouble over people being discharged from hospitals into care homes.
Like us initially they did not have the capacity to test every patient leaving hospital, but until testing was introduced no home was allowed to accept any hospital discharges unless they could quarantine patients for two weeks.
One of the biggest risks is people who work in care homes either passing the virus on to residents or passing it back to their families.
We heard that in Korea some care workers were given financial incentives to move into their care homes for the duration of the pandemic.
In Canada, Singapore and Israel, people were banned from working in more than one care home – a sensible measure we should surely introduce here given our high number of agency workers.
But the big long-term lesson to learn is the need for a long-term plan and funding settlement for the social care sector as a whole to go alongside what we now have for the NHS.
I was successful in negotiating the latter when I was health secretary, leading to a £20bn annual rise in the NHS budget.
I was moved on to the foreign office before I could secure an equivalent settlement for the social care sector but after coronavirus surely the government will see why this is vital.
The health and social care sectors are totally inter-dependent and we need to make sure we treat them as such.
We have had a tragedy in our care homes, with just under 40 per cent having a resident who has contracted the virus.
According to the London School of Economics, one in 20 care-home residents has now died.
But the total number of care-home cases is thankfully now falling – and as we prepare for a second wave, it has never been more important to learn from best practice around the world.
It is the job of the Select Committee to make sure we do.