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‘An appalling error’

By guest blogger JEF SMITH

Deploring the so-called ‘blame game’ has become a popular defence among people seeking to evade responsibility for their mistakes; its objective is to turn the tables on the accuser and to make the perpetrator the unfairly vilified victim. It comes as no surprise that the phrase has repeatedly been used over recent months by defenders of the British government in general and the Department of Health and Social Care in particular. The issue under consideration is of course their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Attempts at official evasion, however, were decisively punctured last week when a report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee analysed a series of dubious policy decisions made by DHSC. Among these, it describes the discharge of around 25,000 patients from hospital into care homes without testing for the virus as “an appalling error”. The committee is an all party group with no axe to grind. Its brief is to examine the government’s general record for effectiveness, so the fact that it singled out for study the response to Covid-19 shows that it had identified this area as one especially needing scrutiny.

The hospital discharge policy, the report points out, decisively contradicting DHSC’s repeated denials, “remained in force even after it became clear people could transfer the virus without ever having symptoms”. The process illustrates, it continues, “the government’s slow, inconsistent and, at times, negligent approach to giving the sector the support it needed”. It took place, it adds, rubbing salt into the wounds it has inflicted, against the backdrop of “years of inattention, funding cuts and delayed reforms”.

There is of course nothing new about any of this for those living in, working at, or associated with residential homes, but the sad story is given added weight by the authority of those retelling it. Select Committees have a powerful place in the structure of Parliament, and the report’s requirement that DHSC “should review which care homes received discharged patients and how many subsequently had outbreaks, and report back to us in writing by September 2020” – just two months away – will send shivers down many spines. It is of course ministers who, as Boris Johnson has often reiterated, take the decisions, so they must now accept the consequences.

It is surely not unreasonable, however, to ask precisely which officials gave the advice on which the fatal policies were based. There is no civil servant specialising in social care on either the Department’s board or executive committee; nor does any one of the Department’s 30 or so advisory groups specialise in residential homes. Where then were, for example, the Director General for Community and Social Care, or the Chief Social Worker for Adults in the structure of corona virus decision taking?

Call it identifying responsibility, call it holding to account, call it – if you insist – allocating blame; whatever the preferred terminology, DHSC has some very sharp questions to answer.

  • The CT Blog is written in a personal capacity – comments and opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed or supported by Caring Times.

One Reply to “‘An appalling error’”

  1. Those who know me will be unsurprised by my response to this.
    Am I the only one who is horrified by a committee that decries the policy of discharging residents to care homes and appalling error’ then goes on to ask operators to submit evidence. My problem all the way through has been the cart before horse rush to judgement without carrying out any research whatsoever. Whilst the narrative makes sense and may, in the fullness of time prove correct, there seems an unseemly desire to simply bash on with the judgement without actually doing any of the hard work to properly understand cause and effect. To me this is insane as there is a real risk that other contributory factors may be missed, ignored or worse, hidden because they don’t achieve the desired political result. I’ve even heard operators making this claim that flatly refuses to take NHS discharges – my question to them is, so on what evidence do you know this to be correct?
    For those prepared to listen to troublesome facts, We were asked to take discharges from hospital, we were never forced to take discharges from hospitals, some of our homes chose to accept untested discharges, where we felt it safe, and the evidence (you know, actual numbers and stuff like that) showed it wasn’t those homes that were hardest hit. The homes that were hardest hit were those in communities that were very heavily impacted by the virus. On this basis the evidence suggests that asymptomatic staff were likely the vector.
    Just saying. As for a committee reaching conclusions then asking for some evidence – seriously!?

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