Care home residents have been “failed by the system” according to one councillor after it emerged that more than 100 people died from Covid-19 at care facilities in the Basingstoke area.

As reported by The Gazette, 103 people have died after testing positive for the virus between April 2020 and March 2021.

Among those are 28 people who died at Pemberley House Care Home, which has the highest mortality figure in Hampshire and is in the top half of a per cent of all care homes to have recorded Covid deaths across the country.

The Gazette reported earlier this year how at least 22 residents of the Grove Road care home had died in one of the worst known outbreaks of the pandemic at the time.

In total, more than 60 per cent of the Covid deaths took place between January and March 2021, raising concerns over why so many people died almost a year into the pandemic.

Now, the ward councillor for Eastrop and Grove has called for the public inquiry into the pandemic to start immediately so lessons can be learnt.

Cllr Gavin James, who called for an investigation after the initial outbreak at Pemberley House in January, said: "What surprised me was that there was more deaths a year into the pandemic than at the start, and I don’t know why.

“The ‘ring of steel’ was around all the care homes by then. Was it the weather, was it a reaction, was it a relaxation of the rules?

“We know there is going to be another winter, and the government are talking about another booster vaccine. There is a risk of more death.

“We have got another year to wait until the independent inquiry. It has to start now.

“It is time to stop dragging our heels and start this inquiry.

“These are real lives. These are loved ones that have been isolated for a year.

“The healing process is difficult but it may being if they can understand why.”

When asked what his message would be to those who have lost loved ones in a care home, Cllr James continued: “I can’t think of the words. There is nothing I can say that can take away the pain.

“The healing process will begin with answers. I just feel so sorry how older people were let down and failed by the system.”

The independent public inquiry into the Covid pandemic is scheduled to start next Spring, and Boris Johnson has so far resisted calls for this to be escalated.

He previously told MPs the delay was necessary to avoid putting too much stress on the NHS, advisers and government while there was the risk of a winter surge later this year.

But senior judge Sir Robert Owen has urged that the inquiry should start now, warning that if it does not report back for four or five years “it ceases to form a useful function”.

A spokesperson for Avery Health, which runs Pemberely House, said: "The last eighteen months have, without doubt, been the most difficult time for our sector, and our residents, staff and families at Pemberley House. We would like to express our sincere condolences to every family who lost a loved one who was living with us during the pandemic.

"Sadly, our story is not unique, with homes like ours across the country losing people they cared for, all of whom were much loved and valued members of their communities. Although even one death is one death too many, we are thankful that all staff at Pemberley House pulled together to manage the pandemic to the best of our ability.

"The Covid-19 pandemic, although unprecedented and extremely challenging, was tackled by the team with vigour and action, over and above the basic instruction given by government, and often in advance of government guidelines.

"Examples of this is having a daily Covid Response Team consisting of 20 expert staff to develop protocols. Early implementations included purchasing enough personal protective equipment for all staff and introducing staff working in zones to minimise contact across people.

"The Group was quick to invest in technology to support clean environments to include deep-cleaning fogging machines that sanitises a room in less than an hour, and Topaz machines for dispensing hand sanitiser and temperature checks; both of which will continue to be used at Pemberley House into the future. 

"It soon became evident that regular testing was paramount to control in the early stages of the pandemic and Avery became one of six organisations who were chosen to pilot the Government testing programme in July 2020.

"As time progressed and the vaccine programme gathered pace, Avery turned its attention to finding solutions to support families coming back together for much needed visits. Each home garden, including Pemberley House, was installed with a specially-designed garden pod with floor to ceiling partition screens and hands-free intercoms so that communication is clear and safe for use.

"We understand that residents and families may find the information being shared in the report distressing, again our thoughts are with you. We would like to thank all of our residents, their families and friends, and our own staff for their understanding, commitment and support throughout this difficult time.

"Pemberley House Care Home will continue to minimise risk and follow all of the government and local guidance. Looking forwards to a brighter future thanks to the overwhelming uptake of the vaccine by our residents and staff, families and residents are now more confident, which we are overwhelmingly grateful for."