“Right from the start we've tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes.”

Matt Hancock, Coronavirus Press Briefing

May 15, 2020

Facts

At a Coronavirus press briefing, Matt Hancock said: “Right from the start we've tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes.”

As late as March 13th 2020, government guidance claimed it was “very unlikely” people receiving care in care homes or the community will be infected with the new coronavirus.

This advice was withdrawn on March 13th 2020, and replaced with new guidance about what to do in the event of an outbreak at a care home or other supported living.

Testing of discharges from hospitals into care homes was only introduced on April 15th 2020, announced by Matt Hancock at the daily briefing. This meant that hundreds of potential carriers could have been reintroduced to care homes before then. 

An anonymous article in The Times, written by the owner of an award-winning chain of care homes, details how the government was slow to respond, accusing them of being “asleep at the wheel.”

Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke, author of the bestselling book ‘Dear Life, Your Life In My Hands’, also rejected his claim:

“This is categorically untrue. Care homes were left without testing. Without contract tracing. Without PPE [personal protective equipment]. Without support. You can deny it all you like, Matt Hancock, but we were witnesses – we ARE witnesses – and believe me you will be held to account.”

The finding of the House of Commons Health and Social Care, and Science and Technology Committees in the report Coronavirus: lessons learned to date is devastating. It found that: “In order to free acute hospital beds in anticipation of the first wave of the pandemic, NHS providers were instructed to urgently discharge all medically fit patients as soon as it was clinically safe to do so, and care home residents were not tested on their discharge from hospital.” 

The report went on to state: "There were several factors during the early period of the pandemic which meant that it was not possible to safely discharge patients to care homes and at the same time avoid outbreaks of covid-19 within those homes. Most obviously, a lack of testing capacity meant that patients were not prioritised for testing ahead of being discharged to care homes." 

"Guidance issued subsequently on 2 April 2020 reiterated that ‘negative tests are not required prior to transfers / admissions into the care home.’"

In an even more troubling statement, the report added: "Guidance on testing was issued on the basis that care homes would be able to safely isolate people who were admitted from hospital. However, in reality many care homes lacked the facilities to safely isolate patients admitted from hospital." This suggests that even those who were tested and were known to have Covid-19 were still discharged to care homes which did not have the facilities to safely isolate.

Verdict

Matt Hancock may genuinely have believed that “right from the start we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes.” It was disputed by credible experts at the time, and more recently by a House of Commons report. 

When we asked Matt Hancock to respond to the claims laid out in this website, a spokesperson said: “This list is false, wildly inaccurate, and in some cases possibly even defamatory. For example claiming that some of Matt's claims in the Commons were in defiance of the ministerial code, when they were in fact accurate. The priority throughout this unprecedented pandemic has been saving lives.” 

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