The Tories’ failure to protect elderly and vulnerable people in care homes as Covid raged is one of the biggest scandals of the pandemic. Now, after last week’s judicial review finding, we know it was also illegal. Some 25,000 people were discharged from hospitals into care homes when infection rates were at their highest, in March and April 2020.
Most were untested for Covid, but according to freedom of information requests by Sky News, approximately one in ten were positive. No matter their status, patients were sent from the hospital under instructions from the department of health. It was a recipe for disaster.
Covid spread through care homes with ease, especially among people who were most prone to serious illness. The process was sped up by the inability to supply staff with adequate protective equipment. Care home staff generally had less access to vital masks and gowns than even the struggling NHS. And they often had little or no sick pay to enable them to isolate themselves if necessary.
By 17 April there had been almost 10,000 excess deaths in care homes since the beginning of March. Yet the then health secretary Matt Hancock would say later that the government had thrown a “protective ring of steel” around the care sector. As the scale of the disaster became clear that summer, Boris Johnson said it was all the fault of the care homes themselves.
“We discovered too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way they should have,” he said. It was a kick in the teeth for all those who worked tirelessly during the pandemic. They often formed deep bonds with those they looked after but subsequently had to watch die.
The scandal goes deeper than just the hospital discharge of infectious and potentially infectious people. As Covid spread through care homes, managers found it impossible to have residents desperately ill with the virus transferred back to hospital. Some NHS call takers were instructed not to admit patients from care homes, and at least one ambulance crew confirmed the story to the Sunday Times newspaper.
David Crabtree owns two care homes in Yorkshire, in which many people died without being taken to hospital after he was forced to accept a patient discharged with Covid. When that patient got seriously ill, Crabtree says, “We were told there was a restriction on beds and to treat as ‘end of life’.”
A further seven residents died after contracting Covid as a result. None were admitted to hospital. A source at the department of health told the Sunday Times that care home residents were being treated as “collateral damage.” They described the non-admittance to hospital strategy as “mass murder”.
Matt Hancock today says that the blame does not lie with him but with the now-disbanded Public Health England organisation. The ex-health secretary says they failed to tell him that Covid could be transmitted asymptomatically, and that had he known this, the policy would have been different.
But many bodies were at the time warning of the possibility of asymptomatic infection, including the government’s own Sage committee. That’s probably why the high court decided against him. It said the government’s policies were unlawful because they failed to take into account the risk to vulnerable people of asymptomatic infection.
As far as the Tories are concerned, old and disabled people are expendable. Not part of their money-making scheme, right wingers classify them as a “cost” rather than a “contributor”. The years in which care home residents may have toiled count for nothing, nor the richness they bring to the lives of friends and family. When it comes to Tory values, life only has meaning if it has the potential for profit.
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