Below is the text of the speech made by Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the House of Commons on 19 May 2020.
One of the first things we knew about coronavirus as it began its dismal spread across the world was that it reserves its greatest impact for those who are physically weakest, especially the old. In the UK, 89% of all deaths have been of those aged above 65. From the start, we have worked hard to protect those in social care. In early March, we put £3.2 billion into social care—half through the NHS and half through local authorities—and we have repeatedly set out and strengthened guidance for infection control and support.
For anyone who has a loved one living in a care home and for all the residents and staff, I understand what a worrying time this has been. I am glad that we have been able to protect the majority of homes, and we will keep working to strengthen the protective ring that we have cast around all our care homes. As I said in the House yesterday, last week we set out a further £600 million to strengthen infection control, and this comes on top of a substantial programme of support.
First, on testing, from the start we have tested symptomatic residents of care homes, even when testing capacity was much lower, and this has always been a top priority. We are now testing all care home residents and staff in England—those with symptoms and those without—and this is being done according to clinical advice, starting with the most vulnerable, and extending to working-age residents, too.
Secondly, we have strengthened the NHS support available to social care. We are putting in place a named clinical lead for every care home in England and have brought NHS infection-control expertise to the sector.
Thirdly, we are making sure that local authorities play their part. Councils are conducting daily reviews of the situation on the ground in local care homes, so that every care home gets the support that it needs every day.
Fourthly, we are supporting care homes to get the PPE that they need.
Fifthly, we have increased the social care workforce during this crisis and provided more support. Altogether, this is an unprecedented level of support for the social care system. I thank colleagues across social care for their hard work.[Official Report, 20 May 2020, Vol. 676, c. 2MC.]
We have also broken down some of the long-standing barriers, including between health and social care, and we have learned the importance of making sure that money for social care is ring-fenced specifically for social care, as the £600 million agreed last Friday has been. On top of that, we are requiring much better data from social care, because partial data has bedevilled the management of social care for many years and made policy making more difficult. Regular information returns are required in return for the latest funding, and we are looking to change the regulations to require data returns from every care provider, so that we can better prepare and support social care.
Our elderly care homes provide for people towards the end of their life. They do an amazing job and deserve the praise that they have received from the public during this crisis. Residents are looked after when they need care the most: their hands are held, their brows are mopped and they are made comfortable. As a collective result of our efforts—especially the efforts of care colleagues throughout the country—62% of care homes have had no reported cases of coronavirus.
The figures released today by the Office for National Statistics show that the number of deaths in care homes has fallen significantly and is down by a third in just the past week, from 2,423 to 1,666. This morning’s statistics confirmed that 27% of coronavirus deaths in England have taken place in care homes, compared with a European average of around half, but whatever the figures say, we will not rest in doing whatever is humanly possible to protect our care homes from this appalling virus, to make sure that residents and care colleagues have the safety and security they deserve.