Discharging Covid patients to care homes was 'unlawful', court finds

File photo dated 29/10/21 of a care home resident holding hands with her daughter. The Government ha

A high court ruling has found that government policies on discharging untested patients from hospitals to care homes at the start of the Covid pandemic were unlawful. - Credit: PA

The decision to discharge untested patients from hospitals to care homes at the start of the pandemic has been deemed unlawful by the high court.

The controversial policy is thought to have contributed to hundreds of deaths across Norfolk - with some 871 care home residents having died in the first year of the pandemic in the county alone.

The ruling came after two women, Dr Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris, took the former health secretary Matt Hancock and Public Health England to court. 

The women partially succeeded in their claims that key policies of discharging patients from hospitals into care homes were implemented with no testing and no suitable isolation arrangements in the homes.

The judges concluded that, despite there being "growing awareness" of the risk of asymptomatic transmission throughout March 2020, there was no evidence that the former health secretary addressed the issue of the risk to care home residents of such transmission.

The ruling has prompted Norfolk people to reflect on their own experiences of how the virus was initially handled.

Claire Ling, who lost her 93-year-old grandmother, Lily Roythorne, to Covid on March 29, 2020, said it was “absolutely crazy” that elderly patients were discharged from hospitals into care homes, without sufficient testing in place. 

Claire Ling, pictured, lost her grandmother at the start of the pandemic. 

Claire Ling, pictured, lost her grandmother at the start of the pandemic. - Credit: Supplied by Claire Ling

Mrs Ling, of Dersingham, said: “It would certainly have made a difference if there had been those proper measures in place for people leaving hospital.

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“Letting people just go back into that kind of environment [care homes], is absolutely crazy.” 

Mrs Roythorne died just 14 days after Mrs Ling and other family members last visited her in her King's Lynn care home.

Lily Roythorne

Lily Roythorne - Credit: SUPPLIED

“In that time we’d had one video call with her,” said Mrs Ling. 

“They [the care home] didn’t know she had Covid, until she went into hospital and that was literally hours before she died. I don’t actually think they’d had the result back until she’d died.”

Steve Dorrington, who runs care homes in Dereham, Watton and Wells, said: “I have every sympathy with the families, and it [the court ruling] is a good result for them.

Dorrington House, Dereham. Pictured are owners Steve and Lorraine Dorrington. Picture: Ian Burt

Dorrington House, Dereham. Pictured are owners Steve and Lorraine Dorrington. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

“But I do feel at that moment in time, we were all relying on the scientists and it’s a little bit unfair to say that the government was totally negligent.” 

A spokesman for Mr Hancock said the case "comprehensively clears ministers of any wrongdoing and finds Mr Hancock acted reasonably on all counts".

"The court also found that Public Health England failed to tell ministers what they knew about asymptomatic transmission.

"Mr Hancock has frequently stated how he wished this had been brought to his attention earlier."