​Pandemic proved Scotland’s elderly treated as second class citizens - Susan Dalgety

One of the biggest scandals of recent years is the way that frail elderly people were treated during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
The then-Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, wanted the virus to surge through the populationThe then-Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, wanted the virus to surge through the population
The then-Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, wanted the virus to surge through the population

Hundreds of patients, stuck in hospital beds, were discharged to care homes to clear wards for an influx of Covid patients.

More than half were not tested, and reports now suggest that this led directly to significant outbreaks of the deadly virus among care home residents.

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In the first year of the pandemic, there were 3,774 Covid-19 deaths in Scotland’s care homes, an appalling statistic that forced former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to admit that her government had made a terrible mistake by sending people into care homes without checking their health first.

Speaking in 2021 she said: “We got some things wrong and I feel the responsibility of that every single day.”

It wasn’t just the lack of testing that her government got wrong.

Scotland’s Covid-19 inquiry, which opened in Edinburgh last week, has kicked off with sessions on health and social care, and it’s been a harrowing start to the proceedings.

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The inquiry, led by Lord Brailsford, heard how care home residents were treated like exhibits in a reptile house or prisoners – forced to communicate with their loved ones from behind glass during the early months of the pandemic.

Elderly residents were not allowed to touch their visitors, there was no hand holding, no hugs allowed.

People died alone.

Much-loved parents and grandparents were left isolated, with their over-worked and under-paid carers struggling to cope.

It’s worth remembering that in the first few weeks of the pandemic, the then-Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, suggested that nature should take its course.

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Instead of a national lockdown, Johnson wanted the virus to surge through the population.

He and his advisers calculated that a few thousand old and vulnerable people might die, but the rest of us would acquire herd immunity against the disease and life could go on as normal.

He quickly changed his mind when he realised that people weren’t prepared to sacrifice their granny to save the economy, but the elderly were still the biggest victims of the pandemic.

This should come as no surprise in a society where most elderly people are neither seen nor heard.

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Successive governments consistently refuse to invest in social care, fearful of raising the taxes required and reluctant to change inheritance rules to release much needed cash.

Instead, social care limps on, the Cinderella service of our NHS.

But as Covid-19 proved, this lack of investment, this abdication of care, has a cost.

When the service came under severe stress, as it did in 2020, it could not cope, and thousands of people died as a result.

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Worse, politicians did not consider elderly people worthy of their due care and attention.

Why else would they be sent out of hospital into care homes without being tested for Covid first?

And if Boris Johnson truly cared about pensioners, as he and his party used to pretend, why would he have even contemplated a herd-immunity approach?

The unpalatable truth is, and as the pandemic proved, Scotland’s elderly population is all too often treated as second class citizens, shunted off to council care homes and forgotten about.