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Government blamed for West Berkshire coronavirus care home death toll

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"This is an appalling situation"

The Government has been blamed for the "appalling" Covid-19 care home death toll in West Berkshire.

The latest figures show there have been 83 Covid-related care home deaths in the district during the pandemic and this has caused demand for council-funded care to drop significantly.

More than three quarters (64) of those deaths occurred between March and August 2020.

Alan Macro (Lid Dem, Theale) said: "This is an appalling situation that has been made far, far worse by this Conservative Government's actions and inactions.

"Things like discharging patients into hospitals with no tests, a lack of PPE in hospitals and care homes. The list goes on and on.

"There was also a laxness to impose lockdowns which caused the infection rates to rise much higher than they needed to be and therefore a lot more people have died."

The Government allowed hospital patients in England to be discharged to care homes without Covid-19 tests until April 15.

And on March 17, NHS England told trusts to free up beds by discharging all patients who were medically fit to leave, including those who were being transferred to care homes.

But deputy leader of the council Graham Bridgman (Con, Burghfield and Mortimer) insisted the Government had responded well and worked hard to provide West Berkshire care homes with personal protective equipment (PPE), tests and vaccinations.

All residents and staff at the care homes in West Berkshire have already been offered a vaccine and since January they have been taking lateral flow tests on a regular basis.

"I think there were difficulties and I think there were problems at the outset, but those problems have been largely addressed well," said Mr Bridgman.

"I absolutely agree that every death in a care home or within the social care community is a tragedy, not only for the family but also for the staff who are hugely affected by the deaths.

"But I don't think it is appropriate to lay that criticism and blame at the door of the Government when we are dealing with a major pandemic."

Mr Bridgman has also previously said the council "learned a huge amount" from the first wave and it was "better prepared" for subsequent outbreaks.

His comments came at a meeting of the council's executive on Thursday.

While many councils are struggling to balance the books, West Berkshire Council is expecting to finish 2020/21 with £3.2m to spare.

It has not spent £1.8m of its adult social care budget because these deaths have left fewer over-65s requiring expensive council-funded care.

The council has decided it does not need to increase the adult social care precept of council tax by three per cent next year.

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