How defying government rules stopped people from dying of coronavirus in West London care homes

NHS and council bosses in Hammersmith and Fulham undoubtedly helped save many lives.

NHS and council chiefs in Hammersmith and Fulham have revealed how they saved the lives of care home residents by defying instructions from the Government.

It has been widely reported how mistakes were made across the country, when hospital patients were discharged and put in care homes in late March, in order to clear wards for incoming coronavirus patients.

This meant patients who had the virus but were not showing symptoms would have spread the virus to vulnerable care home residents and staff.

The Office for National Statistics said that death certificates of 19,394 care home residents issued between March and mid June mentioned “novel coronavirus”. As of July 23, a total of 45,554 people have died from Covid-19 across the UK.

Ben Coleman, Hammersmith and Fulham’s cabinet member for health, recently said that 50 care home residents in the borough have died of causes linked to the virus.

At a full council meeting on July 15, Mr Coleman said: “In our own borough it’s very sad but 308 residents have lost their lives.

“And of these, 16 per cent, a much lower rate than the rest of the country, but still, 50 people who are no longer with us, were care home residents.

“Our hearts go out to all their families and loved ones.”

He explained that this low death rate was achieved, in many cases, by refusing to let patients be discharged to the borough’s four care homes from Charing Cross and Hammersmith hospitals without being tested.

At a health and wellbeing board on July 22, Mr Coleman said: “We had a problem because the hospitals were being told by NHS centrally – which is this nightmare system that NHS locally constantly struggles with – to push people out of hospital into the homes.

“We were saying ‘stop it or we will have to shut the homes’. And the NHS was struggling with the dictat from on high.

“So we as a council took the decision in early April when we were aware this was happening… We closed the homes. And we had quite a lot of challenge from within the system to be honest.”

He added: “[We] rallied and we saved lives.”

After the initial row, he said the leadership of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs the local hospitals, joined forces with the council’s social care department to carry out a huge testing regime in the borough’s care homes.

Mr Coleman continued: “The incredible team at the NHS joined together with the council under our director of social care [Lisa Redfern] in going in and doing things that no-one else in the country was doing.

“People who had symptoms and people with no symptoms [were tested]. No-one else was doing that. We tested staff and patients – no-one was doing that.”

Another factor that caused the virus to spread to care homes included that many care staff around the country work at multiple care homes under agency contracts.

And it has also been acknowledged that at the early stages of the pandemic, some carers felt reluctant to get tested because they would lose income if they had to self-isolate. Carers often only receive statutory sick pay, equal to £90 a week.

To encourage carers to get tested, the council guaranteed them wages of up to £200 a week instead.

NHS Providers, a national body that acts as a learning platform between different parts of the healthcare system, published a report on May 19 that explained some of the errors in protecting care homes.

Its report said NHS England instructed hospitals to “urgently discharge all medically fit patients from hospital” from March 17.

On April 2, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) issued guidance stating that “negative tests were ‘not required prior to transfers/admissions into the care home’, as at this time the national policy was for testing capacity to be limited to symptomatic patients.”

The DHSC later said: “This is an unprecedented global outbreak and we have taken the right decisions at the right time based on the latest scientific and medical advice.

“We have been working tirelessly with the care sector to reduce transmission and save lives, and as a result, according to the latest PHE statistics, over 60 per cent of care homes have had no outbreak at all.”At the July 15 Full Council meeting, Conservative councillor Amanda Lloyd Harris said: “We supported the council with some of the difficult decisions it has had to make. There is appreciation and recognition from the opposition.”

However she was critical of Mr Coleman for directly blaming Health Secretary Matt Hancock for the issues that have happened in care homes around the country.