One city care home manager says that the sector was thrown into a ‘nightmare’ by the ‘policy failure’, while a Portsmouth MP has slammed the government’s ‘callous neglect’ of vulnerable people.
In early 2020, patients were rapidly discharged into care homes without testing - despite the risk of asymptomatic transmission - with government documents showing there was no requirement for this until mid-April.
In a ruling made today, Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Garnham concluded that policies contained in documents released in March and early April 2020 were unlawful because they failed to take into account the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents from non-symptomatic transmission of the virus.
They said that despite ‘growing awareness’ of the risk of asymptomatic transmission, there was no evidence that Mr Hancock or anyone advising him addressed the issue of this risk to care home residents in England.
A Freedom of Information request submitted by The News in 2020 revealed that 25 patients with the virus were sent to care homes from hospital as the pandemic hit.
The 25 discharged from Queen Alexandra Hospital and confirmed as having Covid were among nearly 400 released between March 1 and April 15 – with 206 placed in the community with no records held at QA of testing.
Steve Bonner is chairman of the Pompey Pensioners Association, a group calling on the city’s MPs to lobby government for change.
While he welcomes the High Court’s ruling, Steve believes it is crucial to ‘learn our lessons’ from what happened.
He said: ‘It’s belated, but better late than never.
‘It’s a situation that we shouldn’t have been put in - hospital beds being cleared and people being put in an area where there were vulnerable people being put at risk.
‘With the benefit of hindsight, it was an extremely dangerous move and no doubt significantly increased the number of deaths.
‘We’re the group that were put most at risk by that sort of activity.’
At the time, then health secretary Matt Hancock promised that a “protective ring” had been put around care homes nationally.
Andrea Pattison, owner of St Ronan’s Care Home in Southsea and member of the Hampshire Care Association, said: ‘The sector has been fully aware that there was no “protective ring” thrown around care homes - we’ve lived and worked through that nightmare together, and our amazing staff and residents did an outstanding job in the crisis.
‘It’s heartening to see that this element of policy failure is now recognised as such by law.
‘What we need now is accountability and chance - there’s a lot of talk of reform but we need changes that recognises people’s dignity and treats them with respect.
‘We need better funding in the system’.
Portsmouth South’s MP Stephen Morgan says that ministers ignored ‘alarm bells’, despite claiming to have thrown this “protective ring” around city care homes.
He added: ‘This is yet another sad reminder of how many people in our city needlessly died because of government’s callous neglect of the services we all rely on.
‘Ministers cannot claim they weren’t warned at the time and now they cannot claim to have acted to save lives. They broke the law and people died.
‘The government owes it to bereaved families in Portsmouth to make sure that this never happens again.’
Dave Sheppard, Bluewater Care Home in Buckland, said: ‘We were very fortunate and we avoided Covid. Our infection control was really red hot.
‘We put extra staff on, we were extra vigilant - we even purchased an extra spray machine and we got an extra cleaner to clean every surface.
‘There was loads of pressure - all of it could have been better dealt with.
‘It was difficult for every care home and for the residents.
‘Policies were changing by the week, and sometimes by the day - what was perfectly okay one day was illegal three days later.’
Roger Batterbury, chairperson of Healthwatch Portsmouth, said: ‘It's very upsetting to the many families that have suffered as part of the government's decisions during the height of the pandemic.
‘Healthwatch Portsmouth has always advised the public to follow the science and Government guidance on testing and social distancing.
‘The news of the High Court ruling though will clearly make uncomfortable reading for many people and trigger still-raw emotions.’
One person who spoke to the Healthwatch Portsmouth chairperson earlier today and who has been through this and lost a parent was very angry.
Roger added: ‘Today's High Court ruling supports his concerns at the time about the government’s disregard for safety in their decision and the impact it had on patients relating to the practice of ‘no prior testing for COVID on hospital transfers’ of patients to Care Homes.
‘At HWP we feel deeply for the people still suffering or for whom this has brought back difficult emotions, we would advise anyone affected by the impact of today’s news to seek help.’
Penny Mordaunt MP has been approached for comment.