Matt Hancock 'was warned over care home testing at start of pandemic'

Matt Hancock was repeatedly warned that all patients discharged from hospitals into care homes MUST be Covid tested at start of pandemic, claim care sector bosses

  • Care Provider Alliance says it issued warning to health chiefs on March 26, 2020 
  • It said that testing was needed to know ‘whether they are going to infect others’
  • Claims it emailed Mr Hancock saying people ‘MUST be tested before discharge’
  • Hancock didn’t make testing for hospital discharges compulsory until mid-April

Matt Hancock was repeatedly warned over the risk of not testing people discharged from hospitals into care homes at the start of the pandemic, it was claimed today.

The Care Provider Alliance, which represents Britain’s care homes, said it warned the Department of Health and Social Care on March 26, 2020 that without testing care home residents ‘there is no way of knowing whether they are going to infect others’.

It also claims to have emailed the Health Secretary directly, saying: ‘All people discharged from hospital to social care settings… MUST be tested before discharge.’

Pete Calveley, the chief executive of Barchester Healthcare, which has lost 1,100 residents over the pandemic, said that in March and April last year ‘we were saying absolutely no one should be discharged from hospital without a negative test’.

Smaller care home groups also said they were ‘consistently’ urging testing of discharges earlier on when it was not happening, according to reports.

Health Minister Matt Hancock is pictured outside his home in North West London on May 26

Care England, which represents the biggest private chains, told the Guardian it raised ‘the lack of testing in hospitals and in the care sector’ a number of times with the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England in late March 2020.

Mr Hancock didn’t make testing for hospital discharges compulsory until mid-April. 

In total, 42,498 residents in England and Wales have had Covid-19 recorded on their death certificate, according to official data from the Office for National Statistics. 

The newspaper said Care England raised concerns over ‘lack of testing in hospitals and in the care sector’ with the Department of Health and Social Care ‘several times’.

The Guardian also reported that the Care Providers Alliance told the Government to ‘prioritise testing for care residents’ in March 2020.

It comes ahead of the Health Secretary facing further questions about accusations made by Dominic Cummings as he appears in front of a select committee today.

A care home worker administers a Covid-19 swab test on a resident in Whitley Bay in May 2020

Mr Hancock was accused by the Prime Minister’s former chief aide of lying to Boris Johnson over coronavirus plans and being ‘disastrously incompetent’.

Back up your claims now, senior MPs tell Dominic Cummings

Senior MPs have told Dominic Cummings key allegations in his attack on Health Secretary Matt Hancock will be considered ‘unsubstantiated’ if he fails to provide proof.

Dominic Cummings gives evidence in May

Boris Johnson’s ex-chief adviser has missed a deadline by the two committees he appeared before to back up his claims.

MPs also said they had yet to receive a response to their request for evidence around the Prime Minister’s handling of the pandemic’s early days.

Mr Cummings made a slew of claims to MPs, saying Mr Hancock should have been sacked for ‘at least 15 to 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions’.

Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt, who chair the health and science committees, set him a deadline of June 4. They said: ‘Without further evidence we have to consider these allegations as unsubstantiated’.

Among the explosive claims from Mr Cummings last month was that Mr Johnson was furious to discover that untested hospital patients had been discharged to care homes, alleging that Mr Hancock had told them both that people being discharged would be tested.

Mr Hancock has since denied promising hospital to care home testing and told the Commons last month that it was not possible to test everyone leaving hospital for social care at the start of the pandemic because the capacity was not available.

He added ‘his recollection’ was committing to delivering testing for people going from hospital into care homes ‘when we could do it’.

Care homes are likely to be the main topic of questioning during today’s session of the Commons Health and Social Care committee.

Meanwhile Mr Cummings has been told by senior MPs that his allegations about Mr Hancock would be considered ‘unsubstantiated’ if he failed to provide proof.

The controversial former adviser has already missed a deadline set by the two select committees he appeared before to back up his claims, it emerged yesterday.

Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt, who chair the Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees, wrote to the controversial aide setting a deadline of June 4.

Regarding his claims on Mr Hancock, they said: ‘We are sure you understand that without further evidence we have to consider these allegations as unsubstantiated.’

Yesterday, it emerged that a charity is seeking to legally challenge the Government over its guidance requiring care home residents to isolate for 14 days after overnight stays and on admission.

John’s Campaign has applied for permission for a judicial review of the Department of Health and Social Care guidance at the High Court.

The latest Office for National Statistics data on care home deaths since the pandemic began

Originally, the Government said any resident leaving their care home in England must isolate for 14 days on their return.

How care home Covid deaths have dropped to lowest weekly level

Some 12 care home resident deaths involving Covid-19 in England and Wales were registered in the week to May 28, down 52 per cent on the previous week, according to the Office for National Statistics.

This is the lowest number of care home resident deaths registered in a single week since the pandemic began.

In total, 42,498 care home residents in England and Wales have now had Covid-19 recorded on their death certificate.

The ONS figures cover deaths of care home residents in all settings, not just in care homes.

The guidance was updated in early May enabling low-risk outdoor visits, and again later that month, allowing visits to hospitals as outpatients, GPs, dentists, day centres, workplaces and educational settings without needing to self-isolate after.

But following any overnight stay, including a hospital visit, and on admission, residents are still required to isolate for 14 days.

The DHSC has said its guidance will be kept under review, and its ‘ambition’ is that the need for self-isolation following overnight stays will be amended as soon as evidence shows it is safe.

John’s Campaign says current guidance is unlawful because it encourages providers to falsely imprison residents, and makes it likely that providers will not conduct individual risk assessments.

The charity said the DHSC has told its lawyers from Leigh Day that the 14-day requirement is not mandatory.

But it said most providers see it as so, and the Care Quality Commission has said it expects providers to comply with Government guidance.

Leigh Day said testimonies show the requirement is having a ‘profound impact on the wellbeing of residents and in some cases is resulting in serious and irretrievable decline’.

The charity’s application includes evidence from people such as Anne, whose husband was admitted to a care home after his Alzheimer’s disease deteriorated in January.

She said: ‘It is an abomination that this 14-day isolation policy was dreamt up in the first place and persists when people are visiting pubs and raves, singing at football matches and generally doing far more ‘dangerous’ things than my frail and lonely husband.’

John’s Campaign co-founder Julia Jones said: ‘Listening to relatives and reading accounts of 14-day isolation has been a sickening experience.

‘Most people wouldn’t shut an animal up for two weeks with no fresh air, exercise or companionship, yet this is happening routinely to new arrivals in our care homes, to people discharged from hospital needing rehabilitation and to young people (often with the understanding of toddlers) who need to spend time with their families.’

Director of the Relatives and Residents Association, Helen Wildbore, said the Government has ‘swung from one extreme to the other’ with its care home response.

She said: ‘In the first wave, the sector was left without even basic protections and residents felt abandoned.

‘Now, Government guidance imposes prison-like isolation which our helpline hears is having a devastating impact on wellbeing.

‘Whilst the rest of the country is opening up, people living in care are being left behind in the most appalling way. This policy must be urgently amended.’

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