The Government made a series of shockingly irresponsible decisions that abandoned care home residents to die, according to a damning new report by Amnesty International on care homes and the early stages of the pandemic.

It highlights key failings such as decisions to discharge thousands of untested hospital patients into care homes, the imposition of blanket DNARs, lack of guidance and staff struggling to access adequate amounts of PPE.

Following the report, As If Expendable: The UK Government’s Failure to Protect Older People in Care Homes during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Amnesty have now called for a full independent public inquiry to commence immediately, and for the revision of current restrictive visiting guidelines that have led to multiple violations of care home residents’ human rights. 

Care home managers and staff described to Amnesty “a complete breakdown” of systems in the first six weeks of the pandemic response. From 2 March and 12 June this year 28,186 “excess deaths” were recorded in care homes in England, with over 18,500 care home residents confirmed to have died with Covid-19 during this period.

On 17 March, four days after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, the report states that the Government ordered the discharge of 25,000 patients from hospitals into care homes, including those infected or possibly infected with Covid-19.

On 2 April, the same day that the WHO confirmed the existence of pre-symptomatic cases of Covid-19, the Government reiterated its guidance for hospital discharge that ‘Negative tests are not required prior to transfers/ admissions into the care home’. 

Care home pandemic response led to violations of human rights of older people

Amnesty say that these and other decisions taken by the Government led to violations of human rights of older people in care homes during the pandemic - notably their right to life, their right to health and their right to non-discrimination.

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said: “The Government made a series of shockingly irresponsible decisions which abandoned care home residents to die. Discharged without being tested, thousands of older people were sent to care homes at great risk to themselves and other residents and to staff.

“The appalling death toll was entirely avoidable - it is a scandal of monumental proportions. As the country faces a second wave of coronavirus, we urgently need a full independent public inquiry into the care home scandal, so that lessons can be learned and lives protected, before any more lives are lost.”

Amnesty has launched a new campaign calling for a full independent public Inquiry into the pandemic, with an interim phase starting immediately focusing on older people in care homes. It is also calling on the Government to:

  • Order a thorough review of Do Not Attempt Resuscitation (DNAR) forms in care home residents’ care plans and medical files to ensure they were not imposed without due process
  • Ensure that care home residents have full access to the NHS services to which they are entitled
  • Make regular testing available to care home visitors, as well as to care home residents and staff
  • Ensure that guidelines for care home visits put the best interests of the residents at the centre and that restrictions are based on individual risk assessments, taking into account all possible risk-mitigating measures – such as more frequent testing for care workers, residents and visitors.

Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Adviser, said: “It is as if care home residents were seen as expendable. Despite thousands of empty beds they were de-prioritised when it came to getting access to hospital care, and had blanket do not resuscitate orders imposed on them without due process. Such abuses are deeply disturbing.

“It is imperative that lessons are learned so that the same mistakes are not repeated, and that those responsible for such disastrous decisions are held accountable."