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Court skewers Tory shambles on Covid care

HEALTH unions slammed the Tories’ “callous disregard” for care home residents and staff today after judges ruled that discharging patients into social care settings early in the Covid-19 pandemic was unlawful.

The High Court ruled that the government policy, initially implemented without testing or suitable isolation arrangements in place, failed to consider the risk to elderly and vulnerable people from non-symptomatic transmission.

The danger had been highlighted by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance in a radio interview on March 13 2020 – 10 days before Britain’s first national lockdown.

The case against Public Health England and former health and social care secretary Matt Hancock was brought by two women who both lost fathers in care homes to the virus.

Dr Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris condemned the policy and the “shocking death toll” it had caused, thought to number in the tens of thousands. 

Speaking outside court, Dr Gardner said she "believed all along that my father and other residents of care homes were neglected and let down by the government.

"The High Court has now vindicated that belief, and our campaign to expose the truth," she added.

Her father, Michael Gibson, was 88 when he died on April 3 2020 while living in a care home in Oxfordshire.

His cause of death was given as “suspected Covid” after the home took in a infected patient discharged from hospital.

Ms Harris’s father, former Royal Marine Donald Harris, 89, died in Alton, Hampshire, on 1 May 2020 after an outbreak in his care home.

The judgement had brought “some comfort” after ministers had not been honest about “exposing many vulnerable people to a greater risk of death,” she charged.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson repeated his apologies for all deaths during the pandemic during Prime Minister’s Questions today, but both women called on him to resign. 

In their judgement, Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Garnham found that policy decisions taken by Mr Hancock in spring 2020 and detailed in two documents – the March Discharge Policy and the April Admissions Guidance – were unlawful.

They said: “This was not a binary question – a choice between on the one hand doing nothing at all, and on the other hand requiring all newly admitted residents to be quarantined.

“The documents could, for example, have said that where an asymptomatic patient is admitted to a care home, he or she should, so far as practicable, be kept apart from other residents. 

“Since there is no evidence that this question was considered by [Mr Hancock], it is not an example of a political judgement on a finely balanced issue.”

They rejected other claims made under human rights legislation and against NHS England.

Rachel Harrison from health union GMB said the policy was “always going to have tragic consequences.

“If any good is to come out of this pandemic then it must include urgent reform of the sector.”

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea blasted Mr Hancock’s claim that he had put a “protective ring around care homes,” arguing the ruling suggested the exact opposite.

"Ministers should be hanging their heads in shame,” she said. 

A government spokesperson claimed ministers sought to safeguard care home residents “based on the best information at the time,” but Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said ministers “cannot claim to have acted to save lives.

“They broke the law and people died. We owe it to bereaved families to make sure that this never happens again.”

A spokesman for Mr Hancock claimed the ruling “comprehensively clears ministers of any wrongdoing and finds he acted reasonably on all counts.”

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