The manager of a care home among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic has told Sky News they feel “let down by the government”.
Andrea Lyon, manager of Oak Springs Care Home in Liverpool, where 16 residents have died and another eight still have symptoms of COVID-19, said a promise to ramp up testing was “three weeks too late”.
“Their plans should have been ready to be actioned immediately, not three weeks down the line,” she added.
“Three weeks down the line to me now is no good. I had to take care of my residents with less than 50% of my staff because the government didn’t have their action plan ready to be actioned straight away.
“It makes me very angry.”
Amid the outbreak affecting Oak Springs, a straw poll by Sky News researchers has found few care homes in the country have been able to test their residents or their staff for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
And a group of more than 30 Labour MPs has suggested Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s claims that people in care homes have been tested from the start of the pandemic is “not substantiated by evidence on the ground”.
One of the care assistants at Oak Springs, Michelle Fay, told Sky News that lives had been needlessly lost.
“People knew this was coming before it came, people higher than us, and I think it could have been prevented and lives could have been saved – that’s my opinion,” she said.
At one stage, more than 50% of staff at Oak Springs were off work.
The absences put even more strain on a home that thought it was highly prepared but was still taken aback by the ferocity and swiftness with which the virus spread.
Manager Ms Lyon told Sky News: “It was horrendous. Coronavirus was upon us within no time at all.
“As fast as our first resident displayed symptoms of COVID-19, as fast as we were addressing it, then other residents were becoming symptomatic through the day.
“On one occasion, there were 19 staff members that had phoned in sick through the night.”
Ms Lyon spoke emotionally about the challenges of ensuring no dying resident was left to die alone.
“We took it in 20 minute shifts, so not one of our residents who died was left to pass away on their own,” she said.
“Someone was with each and every one of them until the end.”
But she said it had taken a huge toll on the staff, who said it was like “losing 16 grandparents”.
Ms Lyon said she had learned “an awful lot” as a result, but added she was now “very, very angry” at the lack of preparation by the government.
She said: “I feel that they let us down. They had the information from other countries, the information on how it had affected their care homes, but failed to prepare our care homes and get them ready.
“What we were not prepared for was that a GP was not going to come out, that residents are not going to go to hospital, that no oxygen is going to be delivered should that resident become breathless.”
Ms Lyon said she struggled to get anyone to even certify the deaths because everyone seemed at a loss about how to deal with a highly contagious deadly virus.
As a result, government assertions about testing in care homes have been met with scepticism and doubt.
Paula Barker, Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, said she and her team had rung every care home in her constituency – about 20 – and found that none had received testing.
“The assertion made by Matt Hancock and the chief medical officer [Professor Chris Whitty] is not substantiated by the evidence that me and my team have collected,” she said.
“We’ve phoned all the care homes in my constituency, even those which have had signs of COVID-19.”
Mr Hancock has said that “85% of care homes do not have outbreaks of COVID-19” – another claim which is being rigorously challenged by several opposition MPs.
Ms Barker said: “I’m just astounded really that he can quote that figure because the testing and tracking has not been carried out – so I am incredulous really.
“And I’m wondering where he’s plucked that figure from… I think he’s plucked it from the air.”
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have indicated that the UK’s true COVID-19 death toll is far higher than daily hospital figures – now totalling more than 13,000 deaths – would suggest.
ONS numbers suggest there were around 75% more coronavirus-related fatalities in England and Wales last month than reported by the government, with more than half of those occurring in care homes.