The way the Welsh Government has protected the human rights of older people during the coronavirus pandemic will be scrutinised by both the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The joint decision follows concerns throughout the pandemic that older people have not been protected to the extent they should have been.
These concerns include healthcare decisions such as ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ notices, a delay in extending testing to all care home residents and staff, and the apparent discharge of coronavirus-positive patients from hospitals to care homes.
In April, Caerphilly Observer reported a number of incidents where older people had entered the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport without symptoms of Covid-19, before eventually testing positive in hospital.
In June, First Minister Mark Drakeford agreed with senior clinicians in Wales that in-hospital transmissions were highly likely.
The admission led to calls for further scrutiny of whether PPE guidance and infection control was robust enough in hospitals during the initial weeks of the outbreak. At this time, patients were being discharged into care homes without tests.
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In a joint statement, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Heléna Herklots, and Head of Wales Equality and Human Rights Commission, Ruth Coombs, said: “Given the significant concerns that we both share about the experiences of older people during the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular those living in care homes, we have agreed to work together to consider whether the Welsh Government and public bodies in Wales have met their responsibilities to uphold the human rights of older people.
“We share concerns about significant matters including examples of inappropriate blanket healthcare decisions.
“We are considering how we can best use our powers to scrutinise the decisions and actions that have been taken during this pandemic.
“We are calling for the Welsh Government’s recently announced action plan for care homes to set out the measures it will take, working with others, to support those living and working in care homes and ensure that the rights of older people are protected and promoted.
“The rights of older people must be at the heart of action and decisions about what happens in our care homes, our wider social care system and our communities as we move forward.
“We hope that our scrutiny will be welcome, and that we are able to work constructively with Welsh Government and others to help ensure that the human rights of older people are protected, both now and in the future.”
The joint statement follows growing calls across the UK for inquests into how the coronavirus pandemic has been handled.
Responding to the joint statement, Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said: “We will of course be properly cooperative and constructive about enquiries that they make.
“When it comes to that constructive engagement, there is a weekly meeting between the Older People’s Commissioner and my deputy minister, so there is regular and frequent contact between the government, officials in our department, with the chief nurse and the chief medical officer as well.
“We have always been open about the challenges that the Older People’s Commissioner has raised and about the scientific choices we have made at various points during the pandemic.”
The latest data from the Office of National Statistics for Caerphilly County Borough shows there were 132 deaths involving Covid-19 up to Sunday, July 3.
Of those, 106 were in a hospital setting, 19 were in care homes, and six were at home. A single death took place in a hospice.
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