Did older people pay the price of protecting NHS from Covid-19?

In last week’s Sunday Times article, Revealed: how elderly paid price of protecting NHS from Covid-19, we heard the devasting story of Vivien Morrison who shared her experience during COVID-19. Vivien received a phone call from the hospital about her father, Raymond Austin, as his coronavirus case had taken a turn for the worse. She was told that Raymond, a grandfather who worked as a computer analyst at the age of 82, was not expected to make it through the day.

In the article, we heard how Vivien was told her father would not receive intensive care treatment or mechanical ventilation due to his age, sex, high blood pressure and diabetes all stacking up against him. Raymond “ticked too many boxes” under the hospital guidelines circulating at the time.

Compared with normal healthy oxygen levels at 94%, Raymond’s had fallen to 70%. At their own risk, the family visited their father one last time wearing full PPE, and were horrified by what they witnessed. “He was written off,” Vivien said.

In their father’s last hours, the family witnessed a man die in the bed next to them and spoke to a devasted nurse who said: ‘They’re all going to die and no one is doing anything about it.’

Vivien’s father died in the hospital later that day. Raymond wasn’t considered for intensive care but instead prevented from accessing the care he needed. Vivien later made a complaint to the hospital calling it a “death ward” for older people. She describes eight older men with the virus as “the living dead”, “half-naked in nappies… in stifling heat – it was like a war scene”.

An Insight investigation by The Sunday Times revealed that Vivien’s father was not alone. Thousands of others were also denied treatment, due to unofficial guidelines, including age, to prevent the health service from being overrun.

The investigation shows officials devised a triage tool to keep the elderly and frail away.

Key statistics from the investigation:

  1. There were 59,000 extra deaths in England and Wales compared with previous years during the first six months of the pandemic: 26,000 excess in care homes and 25,000 in people’s own homes.
  2. 8,000 of excess deaths were in hospital and 30,000 people died from the virus on the wards resulting in deaths being displaced to people’s homes and the care homes.
  3. Of the 47,000 who died of the virus inside and outside hospitals, an estimated 5,000, received “the highest critical care, despite the government claiming that intensive care capacity was never breached”.
  4. 25,000 hospital patients were discharged into care homes during the height of the pandemic causing almost 10,000 excess deaths by Friday, April 17th – despite the policy of testing patients before sending them home coming into play the day before.
  5. 1/3 of all care homes declared an outbreak, with over 1,000 homes dealing with positive cases in April (National Audit Office).
  6. 26,500 more people died in care homes than normal, during the three months of the first wave.
  7. Over 600 health service staff have also died from Covid-19.

The number of over 60s with coronavirus who received intensive care halved between the middle of March and end of April. New data from NHS suggests this is due to the pressure on hospitals during the height of the pandemic.

Hospitals appeared to have been limiting the number of over 60s seen in intensive care. In March, 13% of over 60s were given an intensive care bed when admitted to hospital. This figure more than halved by the start of May. As the pressures started to decrease, the number of older patients being admitted increased during the summer months, up to 11% in July.

Chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: “It is manifestly the case that large numbers of patients did not receive the care that they needed, and that’s because the health service didn’t have the resources. It didn’t have the infrastructure to cope during the first peak.”

Let us hope that we are able to learn from these shocking stories and that our carers and older patients can be better protected in the future. For more information, the original Sunday Times article can be read here.

As we enter a second lockdown, we would like to remind you to please be aware of others who may need assistance. This pandemic will continue to hit the older and most vulnerable in our society the hardest and, whilst these groups are most at risk from the virus, they are also at risk of social isolation. For more information on how you can access help or help those in need click here