Mr Jenrick stressed that they did not know how transmissible the virus was amongst the asymptomatic at that time but adapted when they received new evidence.
- On February 25 2020, guidance was issued by Public Health England to care homes about coronavirus, including how its spread could be prevented. It recommending against the use of facemasks for staff and said its guidance was “intended for the current position in the UK where there is currently no transmission of Covid-19 in the community. It is therefore very unlikely that anyone receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected.”
- On March 13 2020, the guidance was withdrawn and separate guidance was published for residential care, home care and supported living. This advised much stricter procedures including cleaning and the use of PPE.
- On 17 March 2020, NHS England and NHS Improvement instructed NHS trusts to “urgently discharge all hospital in-patients who are medically fit to leave” in order to maximise inpatients and critical care capacity. This led to a flood of infected elderly people who had not been tested being rushed back into homes, where the virus was passed on.
- On 2 April 2020, the Government published new guidance to homes about discharges from hospitals that admitted that “some of these patients may have Covid-19, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic”. But it claimed that “all of these patients can be safely cared for in a care home if this guidance is followed.” The death rate in care homes peaked within a fortnight of the advice being issued.
- The April 2 guidance was explicit that patients did not have to be tested. It stated that “negative tests are not required prior to transfers / admissions into the care home”. In July, freedom of information requests from NHS trusts and boards reported that two thirds of elderly patients discharged from hospital to care homes between mid-March and mid-April 2020 were not tested for coronavirus.
- On 15 April 2020, DHSC published an action plan that offered to test everyone going into a care home from hospital with immediate effect.
- On May 15, Mr Hancock claimed: “Right from the start we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes.” However, by then it was clear that the death toll was high.
During his bombshell evidence on Wednesday, Mr Cummings suggested Boris Johnson was furious when he came back to work after recovering from Covid to find untested patients had been discharged to care homes.
Mr Cummings alleged Mr Hancock had told the Prime Minister previously patients would be tested.
The huge death toll in care homes during the first wave has emerged as one of the key mistakes the public inquiry will look at.
There have been 36,275 deaths involving Covid-19 in care homes since the pandemic began, according to the latest figures from the UK’s statistics agencies.
Although Mr Jenrick said they could have done things differently, he stressed that they made decisions based on the scientific information at the time.
The Communities Secretary told LBC: “Of course there were things which we could have done differently, but remember that we didn’t always have the information that we have today to make those judgements.
“Care homes for example is one area where we all wish we’d been able to do more to protect the vulnerable people there but of course at the beginning of the pandemic, we didn’t know that the virus was as transmissible as it turned out to be amongst the asymptomatic.
“As soon as we learnt that conclusively, we changed the strategy and did more to protect people.”
He also told Times Radio that they “wish we could have done more” but their strategy constantly adapted as they learnt more and received advice from scientists.
The Prime Minister said on a visit to Colchester on Thursday: “We did everything we could to protect the NHS and to protect care homes as well.”
He added: “We put £1.4 billion extra into infection control within care homes, we established a care homes action plan, I remember very clearly, to ensure that we tried to stop infection between care homes. We remain very vigilant.”
Nadra Ahmed, chairwoman of the National Care Association, said Mr Cummings’ evidence showed the care sector had been “lied to” from the outset of the pandemic.
She added: “There was no plan, no protective shield and people were discharged out of hospitals untested, without regards to their personal health or that of those they would come into contact with.
“For the most vulnerable to be let down in this way will be the greatest shame this government will face in the way they responded to the pandemic.”