Too little was done too late to minimise harm to vulnerable older people during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the British Geriatrics Society (BGS).
In a statement, it said that those who live with frailty or long-term conditions were known to be more vulnerable to the virus. Yet, important early signals from countries such as Italy and Spain regarding the terrible consequences on older people in the community and in care homes were not acted on.
The association has written to the Secretary of State for Health to offer its expertise and to ensure that older people’s health and care needs are understood and the right support prioritised.
It questioned whether that the suffering and disproportionate number of deaths of older people could have been avoided and said that the neglect of the social care sector by successive governments no doubt had an impact on the ability of the health and care system to respond to this crisis.
Ageing Well Programme should now be implemented
Another factor was the decision to prioritise hospital-based services over additional support for care homes and community services that left those reliant on, or working with, those services feeling undervalued, unsupported and exposed to greater risk.
It said it did not need to be this way. The Ageing Well Programme of the NHS Long Term Plan outlines the model for enhanced health support to people living in care homes and for safe, effective community alternatives to emergency hospital admission or rapid support to those discharged from hospital. This programme was Covid-ready with funding allocated and could have gone a considerable way to mobilise better support for older people during the pandemic.
The BGS believes the implementation of this programme should now be fast-tracked and scaled up across the country to build readiness for dealing with the impact of future waves.
Government must act now to protect older people from a second wave
Professor Tahir Masud, President of the British Geriatrics Society, said: "As a geriatrician working in an acute hospital, the realities of this pandemic have been apparent to me every day over the last few months. I have watched patients get very sick and recover and I have watched patients get very sick and die. This is, in part, the day job for a geriatrician – death is, after all, a natural part of life and a peaceful death at the end of a life well lived is a good ending.
"However, there is no denying that the scenes we have witnessed over the last few months are beyond anything that we have seen before and beyond anything that we trained for. Colleagues who work in the community have encountered similar, if not worse, scenes, particularly in the care home sector. The impact of this pandemic on older people has been devastating and the Government must act now to protect older people from a second wave of the virus."