politics

Matt Hancock defends sending people infected with covid to care homes


Matt Hancock tonight defended a care home testing regime that is accused of killing frail and elderly Brits in their droves – claiming there was simply no other option.

The Health Secretary claimed “it wasn’t possible” to test everyone leaving hospital into care homes during a crucial month between mid-March and April 15 last year.

In that fatal month, Covid-19 “seeded” into some homes as a flood of elderly patients were discharged from hospital to make room for urgent cases.

The Health Secretary responded after Dominic Cummings accused him of “lying”, by promising new care home admissions WOULD be tested – only for it to still not be happening after a month.

And the Mirror’s Political Editor Pippa Crerar confronted him with the damning testimony of families who said they lost relatives to exactly that policy.

One, who lost her mum, told the Mirror: “Nothing he said surprised me at all, it just showed the general chaos and lack of information in Government. I feel like my mum is one of the tens of thousands of people who didn’t need to die.”

Mr Hancock earlier hit back at Mr Cummings’ claims he repeatedly lied and should have been sacked 15 to 20 times.

He told Parliament: “These unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true. I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout.”

But asked a string of times tonight, he repeatedly dodged saying concretely whether he lied to the Prime Minister about the timing of care home tests.

He said his ‘recollection’ was that he promised there would be tests – but only “when we could do it”, without giving a deadline.



The Mirror's Pippa Crerar read out the testimony of families who lost relatives to the pandemic
The Mirror’s Pippa Crerar read out the testimony of families who lost relatives to the pandemic

Mr Hancock told a No10 press conference: “My recollection of events is that I committed to delivering that testing for people going from hospital into care homes when we could do it. I then went away and built the testing capacity.”

Dr Jenny Harries sprang to Mr Hancock’s defence – insisting hospital discharges were actually only a minor cause of deaths in care homes.

The recently-promoted chief executive of UK Health Security Agency said: “If you look at the death rates, and bearing in mind the evidence we found from the fact that the discharge from hospitals was actually a very, very tiny proportional cause of cases, what has had a huge impact is the testing, the regular testing of staff and residents.”

But Tory MP Dr Dan Poulter, vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, tonight called for “an immediate inquiry into Covid-related deaths in care homes”.

He said: “We must ensure these mistakes are not repeated and that care homes are never again treated as an afterthought in pandemic planning.”



Mr Hancock said his "recollection" was that he only promised the tests "when we could do it"
Mr Hancock said his “recollection” was that he only promised the tests “when we could do it”



He repeatedly dodged saying directly whether he lied to the Prime Minister about the timing
He repeatedly dodged saying directly whether he lied to the Prime Minister about the timing

More than a quarter of England’s Covid deaths have been in care homes, including many thousands in the first wave.

Yet residents, new arrivals and staff with symptoms were not routinely tested from mid-March, when community testing ended, to April 15.

Until April 15, not even new arrivals from hospitals were being routinely tested.

Mr Hancock infamously claimed last May: “Right from the start we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes.”

But ex-No10 aide Dominic Cummings yesterday branded that “complete nonsense”, adding: “Hancock told us in the Cabinet room that people were going to be tested in care homes. What the hell happened?

“It was only in April after the Prime Minister and I had both ourselves been ill that we realised that what we were told never did happen, or only happened very partially and sporadically”.



More than a quarter of England’s Covid deaths have been in care homes
More than a quarter of England’s Covid deaths have been in care homes

Asked tonight if sending people back to care homes untested was his “biggest regret”, Matt Hancock said: “I have answered this question many, many times – because we didn’t have the testing capacity at the start of the pandemic, it wasn’t possible.

“What I am very proud of is we built that testing capacity, but it took time.”

Mr Hancock insisted his 100,000-a-day testing target, branded “stupid” by Mr Cummings, was a vital part of building that capacity – despite the fact it was only by April 30.

It came after Mr Hancock told the press conference as many as three quarters of all new coronavirus cases in the UK are of the Indian coronavirus variant.

Matt Hancock announced that the Indian variant was still spreading, with between half and three quarters of new cases now the mutant strain.

He added that on Wednesday there were 3,180 new cases of coronavirus, which is “the highest since April 12”.

Mr Hancock revealed that of the 49 people in hospital with Covid in Bolton, “only five have had both vaccine doses”.

Jenny Harries, chief executive of the new UK Health Security Agency, said the data shows a “suggestion of an upward rise in cases”.

She said it must be considered carefully as surge testing is going into several areas, identifying more cases.

She added on May 25 there were 915 people in hospital in total, down from 4,500 admissions per day in January.

But she admitted the B.1.617.2 variant is “taking the place” of the Kent variant that emerged before Christmas.

Mr Hancock hailed “brilliant” ongoing research on antivirals and whether different brands of vaccines can be mixed and matched.

He added three in four adults now have Covid antibodies, and presented new figures claiming the vaccine rollout has prevented around 13,200 deaths and 39,700 hospitalisations.





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