Hospice staff, unable to obtain PPE, were within two days of having to close. A third of all deaths in the UK have been residents of care homes. Nearly 60% of all people dying from Covid were disabled. Yet Matt Hancock claimed repeatedly that the Government had placed a 'protective ring' around care homes and those most at risk - all the inquiry witnesses in Session 4 of the People's Covid Inquiry agreed this simply was not true.
Speaking with emotion at Day 4 of the Inquiry, witness Dr Rachel Clarke, a palliative care doctor working at Catherine House hospice during the first wave of the pandemic, outlined the despair they had experienced in trying to procure adequate PPE:
We were only issued with a 2-day supply of masks and there was a really widespread, really invisible problem of a lack of PPE in non-hospital areas.
I remember looking at my medical director, and actually starting to cry because we couldn't see any way of protecting our profoundly vulnerable patients - people who deserved to be cared for, with enormous dignity.
The [government] hotline was a nonsense, it didn’t help at all. The only way we were able to stay open was by contacting a charity looking to source PPE. We were begging everyone for masks as we couldn’t get them from the Government, it was a complete dereliction of duty.
By early February 2021, one third of more than 100,000 people who had died from COVID-19 in the UK - died in care homes (35,000 people) and this session of the Inquiry looked at why people who were disabled or in social care had been impacted so hard.
Echoing Dr Clarke, Professor Martin McKee of Independent SAGE, another witness for the Inquiry, said that the Government had failed to implement the 'protective ring' they had promised and how infection spread:
There was not an understanding at the time that many people worked across [different] care homes, it was fairly obvious that this would be a problem, but it wasn’t recognised as such.
Professor McKee also warned about how the economic impact of COVID-19 and successive lockdowns will have long-lasting effects on vulnerable people in our society unless there is a change in political priorities.
Ellen Clifford from Disabled People Against Cuts believes that disabled people had their needs dismissed due to a frame of mind that sees people with disabilities as a burden on society - sixty per cent of all UK deaths from COVID-19 were disabled people. Johnson had taken advice from Sweden's chief scientific adviser, who had pursued a policy of achieving herd immunity - impossible without a vaccination programme - with devastating consequences amongst disabled people and care home residents there. She explained how the UK government's response to disabled people's needs was purely reactive: changes to meet the needs of disabled people were only made after concerted efforts from disabled people themselves, she said.
Clare Phillips an operations manager at supported living services for adults with learning disabilities gave testimony to the frustrations and dedication of many staff, receiving government changes in guidance on PPE at 5.20pm on a Friday and having to implement it over the weekend. 'I do think that people with learning disabilities - and they will say that themselves - have been neglected and forgotten,' she said.
The panel taking evidence from the witnesses included: chair Michael Mansfield QC, Professor Neena Modi, Dr Tolullah Oni, Dr Jacky Davis and Lorna Hackett as counsel to the Inquiry.
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The next session of the People's Covid Inquiry takes place at 7pm on 21 April 2021. You can register to take part by registering on Zoom.
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