At the most recent meeting of Hertfordshire County Council, Labour’s Nigel Bell called for an inquiry into COVID-19 care home deaths across Herts. Despite joint support from Labour and the Lib Dems, the motion failed to pass due to Tory opposition.

Read below a copy of the speech County Councillor Nigel Bell gave in that meeting:

 

As we discussed earlier in the motion on the petition our Group felt it was right to raise the question of the high death rates in our care homes –  and not just in Watford and Hertsmere.

Our residents, whatever their usual political views, surely after they have sacrificed so much over the last four months deserve an explanation about the figures.

Our Labour Group are clear that we had to first of all make clear our thanks and gratitude for the outstanding performance of our care home staff and of course offer our sympathy to residents and their families whose elderly relatives suffered in our care homes.

If our motion here, along with the earlier debate on the petition, leads to an investigation that can reassure our residents then it will have been worth it.

It was also right to condemn the statement by the Prime Minister, which put the blame on care homes for his and the Government’s mismanagement, and to highlight the advice given by the health service, which may well have led our residents to be sent to care homes without testing and the danger this caused not only to residents but our care workers.

This is not to blame our hospitals, but to find out if decisions across the country were mirrored here in Hertfordshire and led to such high death rates.

Many of us have at least one care home in our division and I am sure we all have stories we could relate from care workers and their families about our concerns on decisions taken – and now may not be the time but at least today puts down a marker towards it.

What is most important here is our County’s ability and the ability of care homes to face a possible second wave this autumn and we need to know if, in the words of Nadra Ahmed, Executive Chair of the National care Association, “there may be providers who look at a second wave as just not affordable and just close their doors!”Are there care homes in our County who are facing that situation? I leave that to be answered in time by the administration and Officers from Public Health England and senior NHS staff.

Cost would prevent homes from bringing staff to live in-house to prevent infections, as a small number did in the lockdown. But limiting the number of homes a carer could work in would also increase costs.

And the key point is, as Martin Green, Chief Executive of Care England, which represents the largest providers, is quoted in Saturday’s Guardian saying: “Some organisations will go bankrupt and that will mean a lack of capacity”. He went on, “We need much greater support…..clearer guidance on the isolation process and how to manage people with advance dementia and learning disabilities.”

In care homes, where more than 21,000 residents died nationally, government grants have been used to replace carpets with cleanable wooden floors, build ‘visiting pods’ and divide homes into zoned areas.

With over 77% of beds in care homes in England provided by private companies, it is financial problems that could hit many and we need to ensure those in Hertfordshire are able to cope or put measures in place to help them and our residents.

This brings us to what we feel is our obligation to show we really care about our care workers by making sure that those we have responsibility for are paid at least the Real Living wage and receive proper full sick pay and are not exploited by zero hours contracts.

So, as we can see from the whole lockdown episode, the weaknesses in our social care system demands urgent action on a new social care system and it is even more urgent that the Leader of the Council writes to the secretary of state for that green paper to be published.

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