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Shocking BBC Panorama reveals care homes felt ‘bullied’ into taking residents from hospitals when they STILL had Covid

WHEN 96-year-old Francis Chapman developed symptoms of coronavirus, in April, he was rushed to hospital from his care home in Kent.

But the following morning Roger Waluube, the owner of Pelham House, was astonished to receive a call from the hospital saying Francis needed to be discharged back to the home - before the results of his Covid-19 test was known.

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A deep cleaning team sterilise rooms in Blackley to try and stop the spread of virus
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A deep cleaning team sterilise rooms in Blackley to try and stop the spread of virusCredit: BBC

Francis was the first patient in the Folkstone home to catch the virus and, within a fortnight, almost half the residents had died.

In tonight’s Panorama: The Forgotten Frontline, Roger reveals he felt “bullied” into taking Francis back into the home by hospital staff.

“We told the hospital we’d prefer if he did have his test results before he came home,” he says.

With no qualified nurses, no oxygen and no way of prescribing medication the home felt unable to treat Francis and were worried about the spread of the virus among residents.

Roger Waluube, owner of Pelham House care home in Folkestone, felt pressured to take Covid sufferer Francis back in
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Roger Waluube, owner of Pelham House care home in Folkestone, felt pressured to take Covid sufferer Francis back in Credit: BBC1
BBC social affairs correspondent Alison Holt presents the Panorama investigation
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BBC social affairs correspondent Alison Holt presents the Panorama investigationCredit: BBC

“The call escalated to the consultant in A&E being on the phone, really requesting and stating that Francis had to come back,” he says, adding that he felt bullied into agreeing.

The following Monday the hospital confirmed Francis - who died 10 days later - had tested positive for Covid-19.

“It was a very scary moment because there was nothing we could do to stop it spreading and we knew there were going to be deaths,” says Roger.

Yesterday, a Commons report found that the Government’s advice to hospitals to discharge 25,000 patients into care homes without knowing if they had coronavirus was a “reckless” and “appalling” error.

The policy was an example of a “slow, inconsistent and at times negligent” approach to social care, the cross-party public accounts committee (PAC) said.

To date, 22,000 care home residents have died of coronavirus, according to the London School of Economics.

Panorama reveals over half (71 out of 124) of care providers felt councils and hospitals pressurised them to take discharged hospital patients who had not been tested for Covid-19.

The programme even features a care home who took a patient back from hospital AFTER testing positive for Covid-19.

Pelham House care home in Folkestone was home to 22 dementia sufferers before Covid hit
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Pelham House care home in Folkestone was home to 22 dementia sufferers before Covid hitCredit: Folkestone
Senior carer Karen White looks after residents at Pelham House
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Senior carer Karen White looks after residents at Pelham HouseCredit: BBC

In Pelham House, which was home to 22 dementia sufferers before the pandemic, nine died in ten days.

Speaking to Sun Online, Panorama presenter Alison Holt says that, apart from the distress of seeing residents die, homes like Pelham have had their finances devastated by the crisis.

“The sadness at Pelham house, with the loss of so many residents, is devastating for staff," she says.

“Not only have the care workers been through the horrendous time of having to deal with so many deaths, they now face uncertainty about the home's future.”

'I can't breathe. I'm drowning'

For care workers left to deal with the rising tide of Covid in homes, the deaths of residents have been traumatic.

Nurse Herbert Mumbamarwo, from Manchester home EachStep Blackley, breaks down in tears in the documentary, as he remembers Bryan McHugh.

The 85-year-old became ill on April 15 and deteriorated quickly. After three hours of waiting and increasingly urgent calls from the staff, paramedics arrived and said there was nothing they could do, and that Bryan would have to stay in the home.

Nurse Herbert was traumatised after nursing dying resident Bryan McHugh
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Nurse Herbert was traumatised after nursing dying resident Bryan McHughCredit: BBC

Bryan’s family were told and they agreed to put him on palliative care.

“We thought he’d suffered enough with his dementia and everything else,” says daughter Sue.

Unable to be with her dying dad, distraught Sue sent a message through staff.

“Tell him there’s Covid outside and we’ve got to be isolated in our own homes, that’s why we can’t come to you either,” she says, through tears. “And tell him that we love him.”

Night nurse Herbert administered morphine, but it didn’t ease his discomfort as he struggled to breathe.

“In the last 12 months Bryan hadn’t spoken a complete sentence but that night he managed to say, ‘I can’t breathe, I’m drowning’ - words I didn’t know he could speak,” says Herbert.

“That explains the extent of the trauma he was experiencing.”

EachStep Blackley in Manchester is a specialist home for 60 people living with dementia
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EachStep Blackley in Manchester is a specialist home for 60 people living with dementiaCredit: Google

Desperate to help, Herbert resorted to trawling the web for solutions.

“I was going on YouTube, NICE guideline, trying to find better ways to help someone enduring a traumatic end of life,” he says. “I applied everything I could get but unfortunately it didn’t help at all.

"I would have thought the best place for Bryan was in the hospital where there are people sharing ideas.”

With tears streaming down his cheeks, he adds: “That was the worst death I have ever seen. I don’t think I would ever want to experience that again.

“It wasn’t comfortable for him and we tried everything we could for him. It wasn’t enough and for that I am very sorry.”

For Sue, the trauma of his death was worsened by the distressing circumstances.

“It’s sad to know that he suffered as much as he did, and he didn’t have to,” she says. “That's going to be hard for my mum.

“I know they were very busy in the hospitals but they should have had someone to be there in the homes to help them, even if it’s only to go and give them advice.

“I feel as if I’ve let my dad down because I wasn’t there. He always said he wanted me there, if he was poorly, and to know what he was going through, and not being able to be there and hold his hand was just horrendous. That will never never leave me.”

Fury after care homes treated as 'afterthought'

Bryan’s tragic death came at the peak of the crisis in care homes, with 3,300 residents dying in a week.

It was only then - a month after lockdown began - that care workers were offered tests for the first time.

Blackley resident Vera Hilton caught the virus but miraculously survived
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Blackley resident Vera Hilton caught the virus but miraculously survivedCredit: BBC

Mark Adams, CEO of Community Integrated Care, which owns Blackley, says the Government should have acted much sooner.

“In March, we were seeing what was happening in care homes in Spain and Italy and it was terrifying,” he says. “The writing was absolutely on the wall. We had no advice or guidance about what we should do."

He adds: “It makes me angry because nobody thought about care homes and what they were going to face until, if I’m brutal, the body count became so high they couldn’t ignore it.”

Nobody thought about care homes and what they were going to face until, if I’m brutal, the body count became so high they couldn’t ignore it.

Mark Adams, care home CEO

Blackley is a lively home for 60 residents, designed to help dementia sufferers live full lives through interaction with the community, other residents and their families.

In March, their first confirmed case, a 78-year-old called Doreen, was discharged from hospital AFTER testing positive for Covid-19 following a routine operation.

“It was scary because we didn’t know what was to come,” says care worker Debra Fielding.

“She was isolated in her room, she came in through the back way and she was straight into an end bedroom. No residents were near her and only certain staff were going in. We just cared for her until the end of life.”

That month, 25,000 people were discharged into care homes and Panorama found three quarters of those from 39 hospital trusts had not been tested.

“You have the system saying ‘we need your help to free up beds for people who would pass away when they could otherwise be saved’,” says Mark.

“There was immense pressure in some parts of the country and almost the inference that you were going to fail your community if you didn’t do your bit. But I think in hindsight everyone realises it was a really stupid thing to do."

Debra Fielding says it was 'scary' to have a Covid-19 patient readmitted
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Debra Fielding says it was 'scary' to have a Covid-19 patient readmitted Credit: BBC

Devastation of families kept from dying loved ones

Despite their best efforts to contain the virus, through deep cleaning and isolation measures, the home lost nine residents - including 84-year-old Joan Day.

Described as one of the home’s liveliest residents, Joan loved to sing and dance and, before lockdown, received daily visits from daughter Yvonne.

But when she began having breathing difficulties, and her oxygen levels dropped, Yvonne was told: “She's not going to come back from it.”

Joan slipped away that night and Yvonne says not being there was the hardest thing.

“I’m devastated. It’s horrendous to know that she had the virus and not to know what condition she was in," she says.

It’s horrendous to know that she had the virus and not to know what condition she was in

Joan Day's daughter Yvonne

“Was she in pain? Was she really suffering? Was she asking for us? It’s the worst feeling in the world.”

Presenter Alison says she was moved by the plight of the families.

“Yvonne found it very difficult that she couldn't be there with her mum,” she says.

“It was the same for Bryan and his family. The virus has created a situation that was so unnatural for so many families, but they couldn't be with the person they cared for.

“It's really traumatic because, as one of the care workers, Michelle, says in the film, you don’t see the progression of the illness. Covid-19 is such an unpredictable infection, people seem to be improving and then suddenly deteriorate. It’s awful.”

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'Think of carers as lockdown eases'

As well as family visits being banned, the spread meant many of the doors had to be locked, often causing distress and confusion among residents.

“Blackley is lively place which brings the community in,” says Alison.

“Its ethos is about people living well with dementia and involving families and the community and lockdown changed that.

“It's a new world and it's not a world that anyone would have wished or wanted.”

Specialist nurse Phil Benson was drafted into Blackley after the first confirmed case
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Specialist nurse Phil Benson was drafted into Blackley after the first confirmed caseCredit: BBC

After spending three months with the care workers and residents in the home, Alison says she hopes the Covid crisis has put social care at the top of the political agenda.

“What happened in care homes in terms of the number of deaths has shocked a lot of people,” she says. “If there was ever a time to look at how we protect people who are older and disabled, this is the time.

“There's a lot going on post-Covid, but we've known that there's an issue around social care for a long time and this has underlined the importance of the care system.

“What many people have said to me is that, for the NHS to function well, you have to have a social care system that functions well. We need both elements of the system to be effective and to give people the support they need in a time of crisis.”

As lockdown begins to ease, and talk of a second spike of the virus increases, Alison’s thoughts are with the dedicated care home staff.

“None of us wants to go back to seeing a rising death toll in hospitals and in care homes,” she says.

“We need to respect the advice for the care workers, seeing the lengths they went to so that they could care for the vulnerable people - working all hours and dealing with the most horrendous situations and, in some homes, not seeing families for weeks.

“That's something that we should respect when we are thinking about how we deal with the easing of lockdown and the coming months because I don't think anyone wants to go back to that.”

Panorama airs on BBC1 on Thursday July 30

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