Deaths in care homes: “one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures of recent times”

Dr Cathy Gardner and Ms Fay Harris’ case goes to full trial.

So said the QC representing Dr Cathy Gardner and Ms Fay Harris whose fathers died in care homes after Covid-19 patients were discharged from hospitals earlier this year. A woman discharged from hospital to Dr Gardner’s father’s care home had previously tested positive.

Yesterday (19 November) the High Court Judge Mr Justice Linden granted the case permission to proceed to a full trial, saying “I consider it in the interests of justice for the claim to be heard”.

Jason Coppel QC had alleged that

“during March 2020 the defendants (i.e. the UK government’s Health bodies) formulated and applied a national policy of discharging patients from hospitals directly into care homes without a requirement for a negative Covid test or quarantine arrangements being applied…This, inevitably, resulted in transferred patients seeding Covid infection within the vulnerable care home populations into which they were transferred,” adding that the Department of Health, NHS England and Public Health England were all “aware” that care home populations would be “uniquely vulnerable to death or serious harm” if exposed to Covid.

This case is about the failure to protect the most vulnerable people in our society, who could not protect themselves. The government has duties under Human Rights law which Dr Gardner believes they did not uphold.

Dr Gardner, in her statement thanking all those who had helped fund her case, said that the Judge’s ruling is “highly significant because now we will get to see the evidence, and internal documents, about the so-called “protective ring”…there is no evidence that happened. This is a case for all the families of over 20,000 people who died in care homes.”

The Judicial Review, which is likely to take place in the Spring of 2021, could have huge ramifications for the families of at least 20,000 people who have died in care homes this year.

The present Government was elected partly on the platform that the NHS was “safe with us”. It was therefore important from their point of view that the NHS should not be seen to be overwhelmed by the pandemic. Significantly, however, the NHS had suffered a series of cuts during recent years under Conservative rule: for instance, 17,000 hospital beds had been lost, many community hospital beds had been cut, both of which have resulted in hospital-bed blocking; in addition the government had failed to prepare properly for a pandemic.

Dr Gardner’s father, a retired registrar, died in his Oxfordshire care home in early April after a Covid patient from hospital had been discharged to the home under a government order. Ms Harris’s father, an ex Royal Marine, died in his Hampshire care home in early May, one of 24 residents who died during a local outbreak of Covid-19. In  written documents at yesterday’s hearing Jason Coppel QC claimed that

“between March and June 2020 more than 20,000 vulnerable care home residents in England and Wales, including the fathers of both of the claimants,  died from Covid-19.”

In her statement Dr Gardner adds that there is “much more to do. The government and NHS have to file their detailed evidence by 22 January 2021 and we then have an opportunity to file evidence in reply.”

Dr Gardner and Ms Harris will, of course,  need to continue to raise funds if they are to be able to hold the Government to account for the loss of so many lives:

Help me hold the government to account for Covid-19 care home deaths