So many people were ill or dying with Covid in my husband's care home he turned a shotgun on himself and took his own life

By Will Hayward

A woman whose husband killed himself after care home they ran was overwhelmed by Covid is demanding a Welsh specific inquiry in to coronavirus.

Louise Hough was running her private care home with her husband Vernon near Wrexham. After Covid got into the home over a dozen staff were off sick and many of the residents in the home died. This had a terrible impact on Vernon who tragically took his own life.

She believes that a series of failings by the Welsh Government and local health boards led to virus running riot in care homes. A lack of testing, PPE and support all made the situation worse according to Louise.

Mark Drakeford has refused calls for a Welsh Government inquiry into coronavirus saying he believes that a UK wide one is more appropriate. In order to campaign for this Louise has joined a group of families in Wales calling for a Welsh inquiry into the pandemic called the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group.

In March and April 2020 the virus was running through Wales and hospitals were discharging patients into care homes to try and free up beds.

Despite pressure to take patients without a test, she would not budge.

“I actually refused to have any patient discharged from hospital without a negative Covid test.” she said. “The local health board told me they were going to report me to CIW (Care Inspectorate Wales) for bed blocking. I said ‘you can report me to whoever you like sweetheart but nobody is coming through my door until they have tested negative’.”

Vernon with his wife Louise (Helen Hough)

But despite Louise's best efforts, the virus did get into the home. What followed was a period of total hell.

“We were making our own PPE out of duvet covers,” she said. “We were making shields out of laminated paper and headbands.”

The problems were exacerbated by supply issues. The Welsh Government opted to supply homes directly with PPE whereas in England it was done from suppliers. Louise claims this made it very hard for her to protect staff.

“I couldn't buy from suppliers because they would only supply homes in England.” she said. “We didn't have anything. I was having to buy stuff on Amazon. We were wearing painters’ gowns, those all-in-one paper things. People in the village here were making us theatre gowns out of duvet covers and face masks because I couldn't get them from anywhere.”

There was a total lack of tests for care staff in those weeks of the pandemic that led to extreme pressure on those who remained. Louise's husband Vernon was normally a loud man who enjoyed a joke who was forever entertaining residents. But being plunged into this took a terrible toll on him.

Vernon and Louise (Helen Hough)

“My husband committed suicide,” Louise said. “My husband shot himself. We were watching patients die. We are very fond of our patients but he is not medically trained. The week prior to this we had 15 staff off sick and everyone was in rooms isolating. We had to take four patients each so we could get through feeding them all.

“He was still doing the maintenance and was going round supermarkets trying to find toilet roll. He was going from one to another queuing up because the supply chain was ridiculous and we couldn’t get anything.

“There was one incident here with one of the ladies who wasn't very old who he got on well with. Her window broke so he tried to fix the window for her and she was sick with Covid at the time. Imagine a fish pulled out of water. That is how they were gasping for air. I had no oxygen here. I was begging the health board for oxygen just to give them some relief. There is still no oxygen in any care home, who decided this I don't know.

“He went in there and she was saying ‘Vernon help me’. I pulled him out of the room because I could see that was having a devastating effect on him. 24-hours later this lady was dead. No family saw her, no grandchildren saw her. Within 36 hours many of them were dead because we had no oxygen here.

“It was really wearing him down and he was losing weight. I said, ‘listen you have got to take a step back from the care home’. We live next door. I told him to stay at home for at least a week, stay away from the place and do not turn the telly on. I said we would go on holiday at the end of June and get away from all this and the next day he went to feed his patients. One of the ladies wasn't very well and he came back, got his shotgun and shot himself.”

Louise is just one of many familes who spoke to WalesOnline about the lack of a Welsh inquiry. You can read their stories in our special report by simply following the link below:

Louise is furious that there will be no specific inquiry into what happened here in Wales and the Welsh Government decisions that underpinned the response.

She said: “The public do not know the appalling stuff that happened in care homes as well as in hospitals I imagine. People in care homes are written off. Absolutely written off. I do hold the Welsh government accountable.

“People say that we didn't know what was coming but we had seen what had happened in Italy. We knew this was coming, why did they not get prepared for this?

“Why did they say no to testing asymptomatic people?”

(Helen Hough)

Louise has now, understandably retired. But reflecting 18 months on it is the lack of testing that is one of her biggest frustrations.

“When asked about why they were not testing asymptomatic staff and patients the Welsh Government didn't say it was because they haven't got enough tests, they said they had the tests but would use them elsewhere.

“I wrote down what Mark Drakeford said. When he was confronted about whether the decisions were due to a lack of resources he said there have always been more tests available than are being used. If they are available why not use them? But he said that residents and staff had to be symptomatic to be tested. He was killing people.”

You can find the Covid-19 Bereaved Families Cymru group on Facebook and can email them at cymru@covidfamiliesforjustice.org.

If you are affected by the issues and want to enquire about legal representation then you can sign up here.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “A UK-wide inquiry will have the capacity and force to oversee the interconnected nature of the decisions that have been made across the four nations and i the best way for the experiences of people in Wales to be properly understood.

“The First Minister has spoken directly to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster about the many specific issues the inquiry must focus on to deal comprehensively with the actions of the Welsh Government and reflect the experiences of people in Wales.”


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