A Tory MP has branded the government “reckless” and “negligent” over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak in care homes.
With Downing Street’s messaging at the beginning of the pandemic focused on “protecting the NHS”, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown claimed the care sector was treated as a “forgotten cousin”.
He confronted Sir Chris Wormald, the Department of Health’s top civil servant, over the discharge of patients from hospitals to England’s care homes without a rigorous coronavirus testing process.
More than 16,000 people have died from the virus in care homes, according to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures.
Clifton-Brown, the MP for The Cotswolds, told Wormald at the House of Commons public accounts committee on Monday: “Care homes on 2 April were asked to ramp up their capacity to take these people.
“This was at a point where the testing was pretty well at zero: five people per care home were allowed tests at that point.
“They hadn’t got adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), there wasn’t adequate testing, they didn’t have adequate training at that time.
“How can you say this wasn’t negligent?”
Wormald said hospitals needed to prepare for large numbers of COVID-19 patients and people were only discharged if they were assessed to be clinically fit.
He acknowledged there had been “huge challenges” in care homes but “considerable progress” had been made.
Decisions on discharge were “rational given the evidence that we had on the table at that time”.
Clifton-Brown also asked why the government only published an adult social care action plan on 15 April.
At this point, there were already 98,476 COVID-19 cases in the UK.
Clifton-Brown said official government advice should have been issued sooner: “Far from building your policy on the emerging disease, you didn’t give that advice... to care homes until the pandemic was almost at its peak.
“Wasn’t that pretty negligent, really?”
Wormald replied: “I don’t agree with that at all.
“This isn’t a situation where you publish an action plan on the day and that is that. The action plan we published was the bringing together and the enhancement of a lot of advice and support we had been putting into the sector already [through Public Health England].”
The committee heard Public Health England had issued advice to staff working in residential settings in February and March.
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