A British court ruled on Wednesday that the Conservative government acted unlawfully when it sent hospital patients back to care homes without testing them for COVID-19 or isolating them – a policy that led to thousands of deaths earlier in the year. the pandemic.
Two High Court judges said the March and April 2020 policy was unlawful because it failed to take into account the risk of infection that non-symptomatic carriers of the virus posed to the elderly or vulnerable.
Judges said UK officials failed to take into account ‘growing awareness’ that the virus could be spread by people who had no symptoms, which had been identified as a risk as early as late January 2020 .
They said the UK government should have advised discharged hospital patients be separated from other care home residents for 14 days – something that did not happen in the first weeks of the outbreak in the country.
Around 20,000 people died from the virus in UK care homes in the first months of the country’s first outbreak of 2020.
The decision came in response to a lawsuit brought by two women whose fathers died when the virus swept through the homes where they lived. Their lawyers said the decision – which allowed COVID-19 to spread among the elderly and vulnerable – was “one of the most flagrant and devastating policy failures of the modern age”.
The judges upheld parts of the trial arguments, but dismissed claims made under human rights law and against the National Health Service.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government would study the decision and respond “in due course”. He said officials had to make tough decisions at an “incredibly difficult time” when “we didn’t know much about the disease”.
PM wants more to be known about the risk
“What we didn’t know in particular was that COVID could be transmitted asymptomatically the way it was, and that’s something I wish I had known more about at the time.” , Johnson told the House of Commons.
“Of course, I want to renew my apologies and my sympathies for all those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic, the people who have lost loved ones in care homes,” he added.
Like many countries, the UK had little capacity to test for coronavirus when the pandemic started, and many asymptomatic patients were quickly discharged from hospitals to care homes, where COVID-19 quickly unleashed. .
Then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government had done everything it could to keep people safe during the biggest public health crisis in decades.
Hancock’s office said in a statement that the court ruling cleared him of wrongdoing and found he “acted reasonably in all respects.” He said Hancock – who quit government last year for breaking pandemic social distancing rules by having an affair while living with his wife – wished health officials had told him earlier said everything they knew about asymptomatic transmission.
Provider Cathy Gardner, whose father died in April 2020, said “my father and other care home residents have been neglected and abandoned by the government”.
WATCH | Home care is a broken system that fails families:
The promise of protection is a ‘despicable lie’
“Matt Hancock’s claim that the government threw a ring of protection around care homes during the first wave of the pandemic was nothing more than a despicable lie of which he should be ashamed and for which he should apologize,” Gardner said.
Johnson has set up an independent public inquiry into Britain’s handling of the pandemic, although it has yet to begin. More than 174,000 people have died in Britain after testing positive for the virus, the highest toll in Europe after Russia.
Helen Wildbore, director of the charity Relatives and Residents Association, said the ruling “confirms what people living with care and their families knew all along – the ring of protection was non-existent”.
“The ruling is welcome as a first step towards justice, but bereaved families will wonder why more was not done to protect their loved ones and how many lives could have been saved,” she said.