The government broke the law when they discharged thousands of hospital patients into care homes at the start of the Covid pandemic, the High Court has ruled.
The High Court ruled the policy was “unlawful” as it did not take into account the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents from asymptomatic people spreading the virus.
Approximately 20,000 elderly or disabled care home residents died of Covid in England and Wales, with many catching it after hospital patients were discharged into care homes.
In a bid to free up space in hospitals, around 25,000 patients were discharged into care homes from April 2020, with the government not requiring negative tests beforehand.
Ruling on the case, Lord Justice David Bean and Justice Neil Garnham said: “The decisions of the secretary of state for health and social care [Matt Hancock] to make and maintain a series of policies contained in documents issued on 17 and 19 March and 2 April 2020 were unlawful because the drafters of those documents failed to take into account the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents from non-symptomatic transmission.”
Jason Coppel QC, a part of the team who brought the case against the government, said that “the care home population was known to be uniquely vulnerable to being killed or seriously harmed by Covid-19”.
“The government’s failure to protect it, and positive steps taken by the government which introduced Covid-19 infection into care homes, represent one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures in the modern era,” he said.
Lawyers for the government claimed during the trial that scientists had not advised about the potential dangers of asymptomatic transmission in April 2020.
Former health secretary Matt Hancock said during the pandemic that “right from the start we have tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes”.
A government spokeswoman said: “Every death is a tragedy and we worked tirelessly to protect the public from the threat to life and health posed by the pandemic and specifically sought to safeguard care homes and their residents.
“We have provided billions of pounds to support the sector, including on infection and prevention control, free PPE and priority vaccinations – with the vast majority of eligible care staff and residents now vaccinated.”