Sending thousands of untested elderly patients to nursing homes in England at the start of the coronavirus lockdown was a violation of their human rights, Amnesty International has said.
A report says the government’s decisions were “inexplicable” and “disastrous,” affecting mental and physical health.
More than 18,000 people living in nursing homes have died from Covid-19 and Amnesty says the public inquiry promised by the government must begin immediately.
Ministers say they have protected residents.
According to the Amnesty report, “a number of bad decisions at national and local levels have had serious negative consequences on the health and lives of older people in nursing homes and have resulted in the violation of their human rights”, as provided by law.
The organization’s researchers interviewed relatives of elderly people who had died in nursing homes or currently living in retirement homes; nursing home owners and staff, as well as legal and medical professionals.
Amnesty said it received reports that residents were denied the services of general practitioners and hospitals during the pandemic, “violating their right to health and potentially their right to life, as well as their right to -discrimination ”.
He adds that nursing home managers have signaled to his researchers that they are being “pressured in different ways” to accept patients discharged from hospital who have not been tested or have Covid-19.
Amnesty says the public inquiry into the pandemic should begin with an “intermediate phase”.
“The pandemic is not over,” he added. “Lessons must be learned; corrective action must be taken without delay to prevent mistakes from repeating. ”
In July, care homes in England were allowed to reopen for family visits – as long as local authorities and public health teams said it was safe. This was followed by a similar reopening of houses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The report says regular testing should be made available to residents, staff and visitors of nursing homes to ensure visits can take place safely.
“Regular testing can help break the isolation which is so damaging to people’s physical and mental health and could mean the difference between families torn apart again for months on end,” Amnesty said.
The report added that all interviewed families whose parents are currently in care homes said that the current restrictions on visits – that there can only be one visitor per resident and no opportunity to hang out. main – did not make sense.
They contend that staff can interact normally in the community and are only tested once a week at most, while having sustained physical contact with residents.
The report criticizes the government’s initial opinion in March against the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) “if neither the caregiver nor the person receiving care and support were symptomatic, describing it as” reckless at best ” .
It also highlights concerns that “do not attempt resuscitation” orders – designed to communicate a resident’s wishes to medical professionals – have been adopted inappropriately during the pandemic.
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A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs stressed that it was “completely unacceptable” to apply such orders generally and that it had taken “consistent measures” to prevent this from happening.
They added, “Since the onset of the pandemic, we have done everything possible to ensure the protection of residents and staff of nursing homes.
‘This includes testing all residents and staff, providing over 228 million items of PPE, containing over £ 1.1 billion to prevent infections in nursing homes and providing an additional £ 3.7 billion for counseling to cope with pressures caused by the pandemic – including adult social care. “