Vulnerable people were “badly let down” and exposed to a greater risk of death as untested patients were discharged into care homes in the early period of the pandemic, bereaved relatives and care groups have said.
The Government has been accused of “ignoring the risks” of asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19, and then health secretary Matt Hancock’s claim of a “protective ring” around care homes has been branded “a joke”.
The High Court ruled on Wednesday that Government policies on discharging untested hospital patients into care homes at the start of the pandemic were “unlawful”, with the two women behind the legal action saying their campaign had exposed the truth.
Cathy Gardner, whose father Michael Gibson died, and Fay Harris, whose father Donald died, partially succeeded in their claims against the then health secretary and Public Health England.
Dr Gardner said 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 ruling had “vindicated that belief”.
Ms Harris said thousands of families had lost parents due to “reckless and unlawful policies”, and the Government’s actions had “exposed many vulnerable people to a greater risk of death”.
Both said Prime Minister Boris Johnson should resign in the wake of the ruling.
The Independent Care Group (ICG), which represents providers in York and North Yorkshire, said the sector had been “badly let down”.
Chairman Mike Padgham said the Government “did the exact opposite of throwing a protective ring around the sector”.
Echoing those sentiments, Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives and Residents Association, told the PA news agency that “the protective ring was non-existent”.
She added: “Older people were abandoned at the outset of the pandemic, let down by the very systems designed to protect their rights.”
Dr Vishal Sharma, consultants committee chair at the British Medical Association (BMA), said: “It’s heart-breaking that the Government ignored the evidence that was clearly available at the time that Covid was an airborne virus, effectively sending these elderly people into an environment where the virus could spread and infect so many.
“And all the while, the Government assured us it was working tirelessly to protect the public. Our patients, their families and our dedicated staff across health and social care deserved better.”
Sue Learner, editor of carehome.co.uk, the leading reviews site for care homes, said the ruling confirmed to care homes and residents as well as relatives that “the Government let them down in the most tragic way possible”.
She added: “For former health secretary Matt Hancock to say that care homes were being kept safe by a “protective ring” was a joke.
“It is appalling care homes were told to take hospital patients not knowing whether they had Covid, and with many care home staff not given access to PPE, their lives as well as those of residents were put in jeopardy.”
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said that as the Government vowed there was a “protective ring” around care homes, “alarm bells were being sounded right across the country, which ministers ignored”.
He added: “We owe it to bereaved families to make sure that this never happens again.”
Mr Johnson said he wanted to “renew my apologies and sympathies for all those who lost loved ones during the pandemic”.
Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions shortly after the ruling, he said he wanted to remind everyone “what an incredibly difficult time that was” and that at that stage “we didn’t know very much about the disease”.
He added: “The thing we didn’t know in particular was that Covid could be transmitted asymptomatically in the way that it was and that was something that I wish we had known more about at the time.”
Downing Street acknowledged that further legal claims could follow over the Government’s handling of the pandemic, but a spokesperson declined to speculate when asked whether there could be a mass compensation payout.
A spokesman for Mr Hancock said: “This court case comprehensively clears ministers of any wrongdoing and finds Mr Hancock acted reasonably on all counts.
“The court also found that PHE (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.
“Mr Hancock’s thoughts are with everyone who lost loved ones, and we must ensure that all the right lessons are learned.”