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THE government still has no proper plans to ensure that hospitals and care homes have sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to deal with a second wave of coronavirus, MPs have warned today.
The cross-party Commons public accounts committee said the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) was not treating the issue with “sufficient urgency.”
It comes after Downing Street declined to apologise for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s comments on Monday, when he implied that care homes might be to blame for deaths because “too many … didn’t really follow the procedures.”
NHS trusts and care homes reported shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the first months of the pandemic, putting staff and already vulnerable patients at risk of infection.
Some staff said they had had to resort to wearing bin bags.
The DHSC insisted that it had never run out of PPE, but acknowledged that the crisis had put supply chains and distribution networks under “unprecedented strain.”
While the Tory leadership tries to demonstrate that it is moving on from the pandemic, the group of MPs warned “it is absolutely vital that the same problems do not happen again in the event of a second wave.”
Labour MP and committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said: “The pandemic has thrown the deep, long-term underlying problems in NHS capital and financial management into stark relief.
“There is no room and [there] must be zero tolerance for allowing the underlying funding problems to continue.”
The committee said it was “extremely concerned” and told the government to come forward with a detailed plan within two months, setting out how it intends to keep the NHS and care sector fully supplied.
Meanwhile, health and care workers condemned Mr Johnson’s attack on care homes and a cross-party group of MPs wrote to the PM to demand an apology.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said it was “despicable” for Mr Johnson to blame “incredible, dedicated” care workers for his own government’s failings.
“Care staff have kept working throughout to help the vulnerable, putting their own health at risk with little or no protective kit and without testing,” Mr Prentis said.
“Many lacked full sick pay, so couldn’t afford to stop home. Others went unpaid if they became ill, causing real financial headaches for doing the right thing.
“This was all the result of poor decisions taken by his government. The Prime Minister should be ashamed, take responsibility and commit to proper, lasting reform of social care.”
Charity Community Integrated Care chief executive Mark Adams branded Mr Johnson’s comments “clumsy and cowardly.”
“I think we’re almost entering a Kafkaesque alternative reality where the government set the rules, we follow them, they don’t like the results and they then deny setting the rules and blame the people that were trying to do their best,” he said.
National Care Home Forum executive director Vic Rayner said Mr Johnson’s claim was “totally inappropriate” and “hugely insulting.”
And the Independent Care Group’s Mike Padgham said his words were “a real slap in the face for those workers after they have given and sacrificed so much.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was “shameful” of Mr Johnson to “try blame others for his government’s failures.”
“At least 20,000 people have died from Covid-19 in care homes,” he added.
“Residents went without tests. Staff were left without PPE. And all after a decade of cuts to social care.”
Deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “I knew it wouldn’t be long before this inept, incompetent PM blamed others.”
And Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery called on the PM to take responsibility by properly paying the workers who have kept people safe.
“Once again the out-of-touch posh boy tries to shift the blame,” he said.
“A million care workers don’t get a living wage and have put themselves at risk to care for our loved ones.”
The DHSC said the government would continue to give the NHS “whatever it needs” to protect it for the future.
A spokesman said it did not accept the committee’s findings on the supply of PPE.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also confirmed yesterday that Covid-19 likely brought forward the deaths of elderly and vulnerable people.
More than 55,000 deaths involving Covid-19 have been recorded in Britain and Northern Ireland during the outbreak, with the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions hardest hit.
Some 20,000 of these deaths took place in care homes, the ONS found.
“Some of these deaths would have likely occurred over the duration of the year but have occurred earlier because of the coronavirus,” the ONS said.
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