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‘Virus-hit care homes must be brought into public ownership’

After 31 Covid-19 deaths in Islington, trade union blasts privatisation

22 May, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Jane Doolan: ‘It is clear that the only way to fight the pandemic and any future ones is to bring services in-house, fund our NHS properly and avoid privatisation at all costs’

CAMPAIGNERS say the coronavirus crisis in care homes should lead to bringing services into public ownership where decisions can be properly scrutinised.

At least 31 people have died in Islington’s homes since the outbreak began, according to the Office for National Statistics.

But the figure could be higher depending on how many elderly people who have died in recent weeks were officially tested for the virus and what the cause of their deaths went on the final certificates.

Residents who were taken from care homes to hospitals may also have been recorded as hospital deaths.

Jane Doolan, branch secretary of Islington Unison which represents employees in Care UK homes, told the Tribune: “Care must be in public ownership. As a representative of Unison’s NEC, I am on the international committee and looking at Covid-19 and its effects around the world.

“It is clear that the only way to fight the pandemic and any future ones is to bring services in-house, fund our NHS properly and avoid privatisation at all costs.”

Of the 16 care homes in Islington, providing care for the elderly, disabled and those with mental health issues, three are run by the council – Orchard Close, Wray Court and King Henry’s Walk. The council says none of its residents have died.

In recent weeks, several Labour politicians have talked about the need for a national care system, run in a similar way to the NHS, while Tory peer Baroness Ros Altman also suggested care homes “might need to be nationalised”.

In the 1980s, a significant shift from the public sector provision of care for the elderly to private sector homes unfolded, with the proportion of private facilities increasing from just 18 per cent in 1980 to 85 per cent by the end of the 20th century, according to research by Bupa healthcare.

Private operators Care UK runs Lennox House in Durham Road, Finsbury Park, Muriel Street Centre in Barnsbury and Highbury New Park, which combined have seen 18 residents die in the coronavirus outbreak.

Unison has also expressed concern for staff welfare in care homes.

Ms Doolan said: “There have always been issues with pay in care homes, including only paying statutory sick pay. Covid-19 has highlighted many inequalities.”

Care UK’s regional director, Deliana Katsiaounis, said “I’d like to reassure relatives of those living in the homes that we continue to do everything we can to keep people safe and comfortable. We have all the necessary PPE and we continue to use it following Public Health England guidelines as we have since the first case was seen.”

A spokeswoman for Care UK added: “Our colleagues showing Covid-19 symptoms are receiving SSP from the first day of sickness absence in accordance with government guidance. We do review individual cases if there are exceptional circumstances.”

A spokesman for Forest Healthcare, which runs St Anne’s in Durham Road, Finsbury Park, and Bridgeside Lodge Care Centre in Wharf Road, Angel, said: “There have been suspected and confirmed cases of Covid-19 among the residents of both homes, and sadly, a number of residents have passed away having contracted the virus in addition to having serious underlying health conditions over recent weeks.”

A spokesman for St Martin of Tours, who run four centres in Islington, said that one resident had been confirmed with Covid-19 who is in hospital.

At the Bupa-run Highgate Care Home in Hornsey Lane two residents tested positive with Covid-19 and they have recovered.

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