ITV News has been passed a letter sent by GP surgeries to dozens of care homes warning that residents are unlikely to be put on a ventilator if they are admitted to hospital with Covid-19.
The letter, sent by a chain of GP surgeries across the East of England, states that anyone "frail enough to require full-time care" is "unlikely to benefit from mechanical ventilation" and therefore is unlikely to be offered the treatment in hospital.
The letter also says that GPs recommend patients are treated in their care homes, "including good end of life care if it becomes clear they are not going to survive the infection."
The two page letter was sent to thousands of residents, including to one care home which looks after adults with learning disabilities.
- ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand explains the significance of the letter
Alarm has been raised by charities including Mencap, which told ITV News "These GP letters and calls to people with a learning disability are discriminatory and potentially unlawful.
"GPs are wrongly conflating having support needs with frailty – this risks people with a learning disability not getting equal access to healthcare when they desperately need it and dying avoidably."
It comes amid increasing concern about the crisis in care, with a survey for ITV News last week revealing that 42% of carers are currently dealing with suspected cases of Covid-19, while 28% have had confirmed cases in their care homes.
ITV News was given exclusive access on Monday to a video conference chaired by the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who met with figures from across the care sector to discuss their growing concerns.
During the call, several organisations raised the issue of care home residents being pressured into signing Do Not Attempt Resuscitation Orders, which request that CPR is not carried out on a patient if they fall ill.
Last week the Health Secretary said Do Not Attempt Resuscitate Orders should not be applied in a blanket way.
Others also raised the issue of testing, with the Care Quality Commission today announcing that almost 12,500 carers have been invited to be tested at sites across the country.
However, several carers have told ITV News they are having to drive for up to three hours to access a test due to a lack of local facilities.
Care providers continue to have concerns about protective clothing too, with many having to spend tens of thousands of pounds on PPE due to rising prices. Others have struggled to access protective equipment at all.
The Labour leader told ITV News: "The importance of these calls is for me to hear first-hand from the frontline, particularly those delivering care in the care sector."
He added: "A number of things stood out for me, there's obviously been an improvement on things like testing but the numbers are still very low and real practical problems about testing, because they're not being done in the homes, people are being asked to travel sometimes many many miles to a testing centre which for people without cars is a very very difficult thing to do, so still significant problems in the care sector."
Responding to concerns about the letter to care homes, the chain of GP practices in question declined to provide a statement to ITV News, but said that it had been a mistake to send the letter to a care home for adults with learning disabilities.
It has since sent a clarification and apology. A senior doctor at one of the surgeries said no other complaints had been received.
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