Inquests & Public Inquiries

Government must be challenged on ‘reckless and negligent policy’ which saw 25,000 hospital patients sent into care homes without Covid-19 tests

Care Home Covid

Terry Wilcox

Associate Solicitor and Manager of Public Inquiries

5 min read time
31 Jul 2020

Discharging elderly patients back into social care during the coronavirus outbreak – without first testing them for symptoms – was ‘an appalling error’.

That is the view of the Public Accounts Committee, a cross-party group which holds the Government and its civil servants to account for the delivery of public services.

In a highly critical new report, the committee says the Government must now immediately review which care homes took discharged patients, and how many of those care homes then went on to have outbreaks of the virus.

In essence, it is calling for clarity over the number of Covid-19 outbreaks in care homes – and how many of the close to 20,000 deaths may have been caused by that ‘appalling’ decision.

That is clarity we at Hudgell Solicitors believe the Government must now provide.

Decision saw 25,000 patients not tested and sent into care homes

The report has highlighted how from March 17th to April 15th, the Government’s policy was to not test all patients discharged.

It was only after 25,000 people had been discharged from hospitals and into care homes that the policy was changed to test everyone.

This was despite Public Health England confirming that it was already becoming clear in late March, and certainly from the beginning of April, that the Covid-19 infection had an asymptomatic phase, when people could be infectious without being aware they were sick.

The newly published report goes on to say that the number of reported first-time outbreaks in individual care homes peaked at 1,009 in early April.

It adds that between March 9th and May 17th, around 5,900 care homes, equivalent to 38% of care homes across England, reported at least one outbreak.

Policy was ‘reckless and negligent’ and care homes were ‘thrown to wolves’
Public Health England clarified that, at the start of the outbreak, testing was limited to 3,500 tests a day nationally and that it had agreed with the NHS and the Chief Medical Officer that priority groups for testing would be those in intensive treatment units, those with respiratory infections and limited testing in care homes to diagnose outbreaks.

The report says that as a result, those involved in social care were left feeling ‘abandoned’ by the lack of support from the Government, calling it a ‘reckless and negligent policy’, adding that the Government ‘does not know how many of the 25,000 discharged patients had Covid-19.

“Some organisations such as Care England highlighted to us the flawed nature of this policy and reported that, given the absence of testing and inadequate PPE, social care felt abandoned,” the report states.

Chair of the Committee, Meg Hillier MP, went as far as to say that care homes were ‘thrown to the wolves’.

Clarity needed over loss of life caused by Government approach

The report says that NHS England and NHS Improvement said it has always been the case that they want to discharge people who are clinically fit and staying in hospital could be harmful for the elderly.

However, there can be no denying that the route which was taken appears to have contributed to the care home industry being ‘ravaged’ by the virus.

At Hudgell Solicitors we have already spoken to many people who feel they or their loved ones were badly let down by the Government’s response – and also its lack of preparation.
This feeling spreads much further than from families of those in care homes and to people exposed to the virus in other settings.

Of course, thousands of hospital staff were left without sufficient, vital Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) for far too long, but we have also seen major concerns raised about a failure to protect those working on oil rigs and people working and living in closed communities, such as detention centres and prisons.

This new report has highlighted that the failure to protect staff by providing adequate PPE has hit staff morale and confidence, while a lack of timely testing led to increased stress and absence.

“These same staff will be called upon in the event of a second peak and the NHS will need extra staff to deal with the backlog of treatment,” it warns.

The devastatingly large numbers of lives lost in the UK to Covid-19 have made it almost inevitable that a Public Inquiry will eventually be held into how the coronavirus pandemic was handled by the Government and other relevant organisations. These sort of inquiries can take many years to conclude.

Therefore, we welcome this review calling for a ‘3-point plan’ from the Government by September, ahead of a potential second wave, covering health, the economy and procurement of medical supplies and equipment.

We fully support such demands being made and feel that answers to questions around why the Government acted as it did, and exactly how many infected people were sent into care homes, must be provided as soon as is feasibly possible.

We will continue to offer our advice and support to those who have been affected, as we fully agree with the words of Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.

“The failure to provide adequate PPE or testing to the millions of staff and volunteers who risked their lives to help us through the first peak of the crisis is a sad, low moment in our national response,” she said.

“Our care homes were effectively thrown to the wolves, and the virus has ravaged some of them.

“The deaths of people in care homes devastated many, many families. They and we don’t have time for promises and slogans, or exercises in blame.

“We weren’t prepared for the first wave. Putting all else aside, Government must use the narrow window we have now to plan for a second wave. Lives depend upon getting our response right.”

She is certainly right.

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Government must be challenged on ‘reckless and negligent policy’ which saw 25,000 hospital patients sent into care homes without Covid-19 tests

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