“...we had a system of testing people going into care homes.”

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister's Questions

May 13, 2020

Facts

Keir Starmer asked Boris Johnson at the House of Commons at PMQs if the following quote from a “cardiologist at a top London hospital – friendly to Boris” is right: “We discharged known, suspected, and unknown cases into care homes which were unprepared, with no formal warning that the patients were infected, no testing available, and no PPE to prevent transmission. We actively seeded this into the very population that was most vulnerable.”

Johnson responded with the following:  “...we had a system of testing people going into care homes.”

Testing of discharges from hospitals into care homes was not introduced until April 15th 2020, announced by Matt Hancock at the daily briefing. Not for March and April, as the Prime Minister told MPs.

The later testimony from SAGE committee member Jeremy Farrar is horrifying. In his book, Spike: The Virus vs. The People - the Inside Story, he wrote: “Patients with the virus were discharged, untested, from hospital back into sometimes barely regulated institutional settings, where poorly paid carers work across multiple care homes.”

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.

The committee did however note that "Dominic Cummings told the Committee that he and the Prime Minister were briefed that patients would be tested." This statement (if true and Cummings cannot be regarded as a trustworthy witness) raises very serious and troubling questions about the advice received by the British Prime Minister.

By May 2020, more than 11,600 people had died from Covid-19 in care homes. 

Verdict

Boris Johnson misled the House of Commons. Contrary to his statement, there is irrefutable evidence that untested patients were discharged from hospitals and sent into care homes. It is by no means clear that the Prime Minister was actually lying to MPs, given Dominic Cummings’ claim that the Prime Minister was briefed that patients would be tested. It was nevertheless an especially troubling falsehood because of the terrible number of deaths from Covid-19 in care homes during this period. Boris Johnson’s full statement remains on the Commons record in defiance of the Ministerial Code. Given the number of people who may have died as a result of lax or non-existent testing procedures, it is extraordinary that the Prime Minister has not come back to correct his false claim.

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