Covid-19: High Court rules that discharge of hospital patients to care homes was unlawful

Published by Rhys Taylor-Brown on April 27th 2022, 11:11am

The High Court has ruled that the government’s policy of discharging hospital patients to care homes in the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic was unlawful.

Judges partially upheld claims made against then health secretary Matt Hancock and Public Health England, ruling that the government did not consider the risk factors of asymptomatic transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to elderly and vulnerable residents when implementing the policy.

The court also found Public Health England culpable of failing to inform ministers what they knew about asymptomatic transmission at the time.

The government had insisted ahead of the judges' decision that it had “worked tirelessly to protect the public from the threat to life and health posed by the pandemic” and had “specifically sought to safeguard care homes and their residents.”

The legal challenge was launched by two women, Dr Cathy Gardener - a PhD qualified virologist - and Fay Harris. In April 2020, the former's father, Michael Gibson, died of suspected Covid at the age of 88 while residing in a care home in Oxfordshire.

Harris' father, the ex-Royal Marine Donald Harris, died of Covid aged 90 at a care home in Hampshire in May 2020.

The two women subsequently launched legal action and presented their case to the court with the argument that Covid patients were discharged from hospital and taken into care homes without being tested and with no suitable isolation arrangements having been put in place.

They added that this malpractice led to the widespread transmission of Covid inside care settings and a “shocking death toll” of care home residents.

Lord Justice Bean and Justice Garnham presiding over the case said in their conclusions that although there was “growing evidence” of the risks of asymptomatic transmission of Covid during March 2020, Hancock provided no evidence that he had addressed the issue with care homes and their residents.

In the wake of the ruling, Dr Gardener said that she had "believed all along that my father and other residents of care homes were neglected and let down by the government" and that the judges' conclusions had supported that notion.

She said: "The High Court has now vindicated that belief, and our campaign to expose the truth.

"It is also now clear that Matt Hancock's claim that the government threw a protective ring around care homes in the first wave of the pandemic was nothing more than a despicable lie of which he ought to be ashamed and for which he ought to apologise."

As well as taking aim at the former health secretary, Dr Gardener also called on prime minister, Boris Johnson, to resign from his position, saying that the Conservative leader now had "many reasons" to go.

Harris meanwhile said that the government's practices in the early weeks of the pandemic "exposed many vulnerable people to a greater risk of death - and many thousands did die".

"It has only increased the distress to me and many others that the government have not been honest and owned up to their mistakes," Harris added.

While partially upholding the legal claims against Hancock and Public Health England, the judges rejected other claims made by the women under human rights laws and against NHS England.

Elsewhere, a spokesperson for the former health secretary said in response to the ruling that the case "comprehensively clears ministers of any wrongdoing and finds Mr Hancock acted reasonably on all counts".

The spokesperson added: "The court also found that Public Health England failed to tell ministers what they knew about asymptomatic transmission. Mr Hancock has frequently stated how he wished this had been brought to his attention earlier."

Responding to the High Court ruling, Vic Rayner OBE, the CEO of the National Care Forum which represents non-profit care and support providers, said that it was now clear that vulnerable care receivers needed better protection and that preventative measures were put in place far too late within care settings.

Rayner said: “During the first wave of the pandemic, it was apparent that people who receive care and support, work in care and deliver care services were not on the government’s radar.

“The lack of prioritisation meant that testing, PPE, staffing, funding and research all came too late. The impact of hospital discharge in relation to the spread of Covid within care homes has long been disputed by the government, but this ruling helps bring a vital clarity to the situation that recognises that people who receive care and support needed more protection and should have been at the forefront of government decision making, which they patently were not.”

Photo by Georg Arthur Pflueger on Unsplash

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Rhys Taylor-Brown
Junior Editor
April 27th 2022, 11:11am

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