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Covid-19 inquiry: Welsh Government response to care home threat was ‘inadequate’

28 Feb 2024 4 minute read
Heléna Herklots, the Older People’s Commissioner

Elderly residents living in care homes in Wales during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic were put at risk by the Welsh Government’s “inadequate” response to the threat posed by the virus, an inquiry has been told.

Helena Herklots, Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, told the UK Covid-19 inquiry that the provision of testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) equipment to care homes was insufficient to protect elderly residents.

The hearing in Cardiff heard Ms Herklots had written to the Welsh Government’s deputy health and social services minister in April 2020 calling for a care home action plan and the response was “inadequate”.

She had first raised her concerns about the virus in care homes with deputy minister Julie Morgan in a meeting on April 9 and then in a follow-up letter on April 14.

Urgent action

In the letter, she asked the Welsh Government to take “urgent action” in several areas, including the “consistent” and “effective” delivery of PPE to care homes, and the “adequate supplies of infection control measures”.

“What I was hearing regarding PPE was that the supply was inconsistent,” she told the inquiry.

“It was causing quite a lot of homes a lot of anxiety and stress about not having the PPE they needed.”

The letter called for a “plan of action” from the Welsh Government to limit the spread of Covid-19 in care homes.

“I was struggling to see how the work to help older people living in care home and those working in care homes, how that was being led and co-ordinated,” Ms Herklots said.

“Part of it was to make clear to the public, particularly those living in care homes and those with loved ones in care homes, that the Welsh Government recognised what was happening.

“I also felt there needed to be an urgency and focus that I couldn’t see at the time and that’s why I asked the deputy minister to personally lead and set out an action plan so that they could drive faster progress and protect older people.”


The inquiry heard Ms Morgan replied on April 21 saying she was “not convinced an additional plan of action over and above those arrangements … will add value here”.

Asked for her opinion on the “adequacy” of that response, she replied: “I thought it was inadequate and I was angered, actually, by the notion that working on an action plan and producing an action plan, bringing the work together, would add no value at a time when people were dying in care homes and families were distraught. I just thought the response was inadequate.”

The inquiry heard Ms Herklots also asked the Welsh Government to ensure testing of care home residents showing signs of coronavirus was carried out.

“This was such a major issue that older people were being discharged into care homes from hospital without testing, and people within care homes were not being tested,” she said.

“The feedback I was hearing and seeing, sadly, in relation to the number of people losing their lives in care homes was that testing was an essential part of protecting people.

“At that time, there wasn’t the testing that was being made available and I felt it was urgent for improvements to be made in that in particular.”

Hospital treatment

Access to hospital treatment for care home residents was a worry, she said, as GPs had “largely stopped visiting”.

“There were also concerns about access to hospital treatment. For example, if someone fell ill in a care home whether they would be getting access to hospital treatment,” she said.

“I was concerned whether there was any blanket policy in place.

“I was really looking for assurance that was not the case and that older people in care homes were not being seen as less in need of health care or medical treatment because they were living in a care home.”

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