A Tory minister has been criticised for saying “hindsight is a wonderful thing” when asked about how thousands of people in care homes were failed last year.
Nadhim Zahawi gave the “insensitive” response after thousands of hospital patients were moved into care homes between mid-March and April 15, even though ministers knew routine testing wasn’t ready.
Last week a Public Health England study found 97 out of 5,882 care home outbreaks in England – including 286 deaths – were “due to hospital associated seeding”.
The National Care Forum has dismissed the “partial data” in the study and suggested the real figure could be higher.
Asked why people were sent home without tests, Vaccines Minister Mr Zahawi said “hindsight is a wonderful thing”.
He told the BBC: “We can sit here and sort of argue the toss about asymptomatic transmission … and when we really knew about that.
“The whole point is you use every resource available to you, to the best of your ability, to save and to protect as many people as possible.”
He added: “Matt Hancock was very much focused on delivery.
“I think it’s worth putting this in context … in the sense that in the eye of the storm, we were only able to do 2,000 tests a day. The diagnostics industry was almost non-existent in the UK.”
But Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “I see Ministers are using the ‘hindsight’ defence to try to excuse discharging Covid patients from hospital to care homes, resulting in thousands of avoidable deaths.
“What about ‘basic common sense’ or ‘listening to the social care sector warning you this will kill people?'”
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said: “Nadhim Zahawi’s repeated claims that hindsight is a wonderful thing were deeply insensitive to all those families who have lost loved ones in care homes during the pandemic.
“They need answers now, not empty soundbites and excuses.
“It appears that ministers failed to act when social care leaders raised the alarm at the time.
“We need an urgent public inquiry to find out why these warnings were ignored and ensure care home residents are not abandoned again.”
Labour MP Peter Kyle added: “Not hindsight – this is what we knew at the time and acted upon. If only Matt Hancock had too.”
Mr Zahawi repeatedly referred to “hindsight” despite documents emerging that showed the scale of the problem at the time.
A 45-page guide on March 19 to discharging patients from hospital – in a bid to free up 15,000 beds in one week – did not contain orders to routinely test those going into care.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times revealed Matt Hancock was sent an e-mail on March 26 begging for routine tests.
Lisa Lenton, then-chair of the Care Provider Alliance, is said to have warned managers were “terrified” that the lack of testing was causing “outbreaks” in care homes.
Mr Zahawi today pledged “I hear you and we will learn those lessons”, and “we’re going to have an inquiry” into what went wrong in the pandemic.
But he also insisted the government “absolutely” threw a “protective ring” around care homes – something Mr Cummings has branded “nonsense”.
Mike Padgham. Chair of the Independent Care Group, told Sky News: “I don’t believe myself there was a ring of protection thrown round us, in those very early days it was difficult. We were forgotten, we’ve been forgotten over decades.
“We weren’t prepared, we weren’t ready, we didn’t have the PPE, we didn’t have the testing. and it took the government many many weeks to actually see what was happening in homes.”
It was already common knowledge that hospital patients were not routinely tested before entering care homes in a crucial month from mid-March to mid-April.
But the row exploded this week after Dominic Cummings claimed Mr Hancock “lied” about the issue – pledging that it would be sorted in March, only for it not to happen.
Mr Hancock last week insisted his “recollection” was that he only promised to start the tests “when we could do it”.