As the UK government readies itself for providing a mass vaccination against COVID-19, there are already many court cases being lined up regarding COVID-19 related care home deaths. Did the government take the lead, with care homes following? Should care homes have been more vigilant and refused to take in COVID-19 positive residents?
There are a number of factors to take into consideration with regards to care homes and the growing number of COVID-19 related deaths:-
The safety of care home residents
Those who have looked at the cost of care homes across the UK will be well aware of the high expense. However, the cost of residency in a care home is irrelevant, with all residents afforded the same level of protection. These are institutions that are monitored and checked on a regular basis, with regulatory recommendations often following site visits. The legal obligation of care home managers/owners has not changed in light of COVID-19. Indeed, many would argue that there is a need for greater legal protection for residents.
The loss of any life is tragic. Some of the stories emanating from care homes up and down the UK are heartbreaking. There is no doubt that the UK government and devolved governments have been forced to take unpopular and unwelcome decisions. The banning of visitors has had a huge mental impact on residents and their families. From a distance, there also appears to be a major issue with regards to the transfer of elderly COVID-19 positive patients from hospitals to care homes. Were policies introduced to allow such dangerous transfers? Did the authorities and care homes fulfil their legal obligation to protect all residents and staff?
Provision of PPE to care homes
In reality, nobody could have guessed the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak which began in China towards the end of 2019. Everybody is an expert in hindsight but few were able to predict the huge impact this would have for many months, if not years, to come. This led to unprecedented demand for PPE and unfortunately, some hospitals, care homes, and other facilities were left short in the early days. Legal arguments will ensue for some time to come, should care homes and health facilities have foreseen the huge demand for PPE? Did these institutions do what anybody could reasonably expect in such dire circumstances?
There is no doubt that many care homes across the UK will find themselves in receipt of compensation claims for the death of loved ones with COVID-19. Indeed, the UK government and devolved parliaments have already announced in-depth enquiries into the handling of elderly patients and their return to care homes – when this will happen is unclear. While seeking personal injury claims, compensation for the loss of a loved one, defendants will be forced to prove they took “due care”. Whether the pandemic has highlighted those care homes with suspect hygiene and procedural issues remains to be seen. However, there is every chance that the government and care home owners/managers could find themselves under serious legal pressure.