Government Broke Law By Sending Patients Into Care Homes At Start Of Pandemic, High Court Rules

Judges said ministers failed to take into account the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents.
The ruling was made at the High Court.
The ruling was made at the High Court.
Jack Taylor via Getty Images

The government broke the law by sending hospital patients into care homes at the start of the pandemic, the High Court has ruled.

Judges said ministers failed to take into account the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents from non-symptomatic transmission of Covid.

Two women, Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris, whose fathers died from virus, had challenged the health secretary and Public Health England over the policy.

Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Garnham concluded that policies contained in documents released in March and early April 2020 were unlawful.

Former health secretary Matt Hancock had claimed the government had put “a protective ring” around care home residents when the pandemic began.

But in their ruling, the judges said: “In our judgment, 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 document could, for example, have said that where an asymptomatic patient, other than one who has tested negative, is admitted to a care home, he or she should, so far as practicable, be kept apart from other residents for up to 14 days.

“Since there is no evidence that this question was considered by the Secretary of State, or that he was asked to consider it, it is not an example of a political judgment on a finely balanced issue.

“Nor is it a point on which any of the expert committees had advised that no guidance was required.

“The drafters of the documents of March 17 and April 2 simply failed to take into account the highly relevant consideration of the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents from asymptomatic transmission.”

Dr Gardner’s 88-year-old father died at a care home in Bicester, Oxfordshire, in April 2020.

A barrister representing the two women told the court at a hearing in March that between March and June 2020 more than 20,000 elderly or disabled care home residents had died from Covid-19 in England and Wales.

Jason Coppel QC said the fathers of Dr Gardner and Ms Harris were part of that “toll”.

“The care home population was known to be uniquely vulnerable to being killed or seriously harmed by Covid-19,” said Mr Coppel in a written case outline.

“The Government’s failure to protect it, and positive steps taken by the Government which introduced Covid-19 infection into care homes, represent one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures in the modern era.”

Mr Coppel told judges: “That death toll should not and need not have happened.”

Charlie Williams, spokesperson for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: “I lost my father in a care home back in April 2020. We kept him there because we had been told that no one in the care home had covid, that he would be safe, but later we learned from the staff, who were fantastic, that 27 patients had in fact died from the virus there.

“For the thousands of families like mine who lost loved ones in care homes, the last two years of cover ups and denials have been unbelievably painful.

“We’ve always known that our loved ones were thrown to the wolves by the government, and the claims made by Matt Hancock that a ‘protective ring’ was made around care homes was a sickening lie.

“Now a court has found their decisions unlawful and it’s clear the decisions taken led to people dying who may otherwise still be with their loved ones today.

“We now need to see those responsible for those dark days held accountable and lessons learned to save lives, ensuring the grim scenes of spring 2020 are never repeated again.”


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