News, Culture & Society

Government never threw a shield around care homes, Cummings says

Boris Johnson’s maverick former chief aide told MPs in a sensational five-hour grilling that the truth was ‘quite the opposite’ because ‘we sent people with Covid back to the care homes’

Matt Hancock’s claim that the Government threw a ‘shield’ around care homes is ‘complete nonsense’, Dominic Cummings insisted today.

Boris Johnson’s maverick former chief aide told MPs in a sensational five-hour grilling that the truth was ‘quite the opposite’ because ‘we sent people with Covid back to the care homes’.

More than 30,000 care home residents have died from Covid, with the scandalous fatality toll largely blamed on the move to discharge thousands of hospital patients into homes without testing them, with the aim of freeing up NHS beds to make room for an inevitable onslaught of coronavirus patients. 

Taking aim at Matt Hancock over the scandal, Mr Cummings claimed the Health Secretary ‘categorically’ told the Prime Minister in March that all hospital patients would be being allowed into care homes.

But he alleged that Boris Johnson was furious when he returned to office at the end of April following his near-death battle with coronavirus to discover the promise wasn’t kept.

Mr Cummings told MPs: ‘So that was one of the other things that I, that we, found shocking, that when we realised in April that this had happened, the Prime Minister said a less polite version of “what on earth are you telling me?”.

‘When he came back after being ill: ‘What on earth has happened with all these people in care homes? Hancock told us in the Cabinet Room that people were going to be tested before they went back to care homes, what the hell happened?”‘

Giving evidence to MPs about the Government’s catastrophic response to the Covid pandemic, Mr Cummings said he and the Prime Minister had been told ‘categorically in March that people will be tested before they went back to care homes’.

He added: ‘We only subsequently found out that hadn’t happened. Now all the Government rhetoric of “we put a shield around care homes” and blah blah was complete nonsense.

‘Quite the opposite of putting a shield around them, we sent people with Covid back to the care homes.’ 

It was not Mr Cummings’ only attack on the Health Secretary, accusing him of ‘lying’ about PPE and access for treatment for those suffering from the disease. 

More than 30,000 care home residents have died from Covid, with the scandalous fatality toll largely blamed on the move to discharge thousands of hospital patients into homes without testing them, with the aim of freeing up NHS beds to make room for an inevitable onslaught of coronavirus patients

More than 30,000 care home residents have died from Covid, with the scandalous fatality toll largely blamed on the move to discharge thousands of hospital patients into homes without testing them, with the aim of freeing up NHS beds to make room for an inevitable onslaught of coronavirus patients

He also claimed Mr Hancock ‘should have been fired for at least 15, 20 things’, and revealed that he told the PM he was ‘not prepared to work with people like Hancock any more’. 

Mr Cummings accused the Government’s response to the pandemic of being the perfect example of ‘lions led by donkeys’, attacking the entire system for being ‘chaos’.  

There have been 36,275 deaths involving Covid in care homes since the pandemic began, according to the latest figures from the UK’s statistics agencies. More than 400 residents were dying each day during the darkest spell of the first wave.

In April 2020, Mr Hancock came under fire for allowing patients to be discharged to care homes without a Covid test.

During media interviews, Mr Hancock insisted that from the beginning of the pandemic, the Government had tried to ‘throw a protective ring around our care homes’.

But MPs last year claimed homes were ‘thrown to the wolves’ during the pandemic and the Government’s actions were ‘at times negligent’.

The social care crisis was exacerbated further by a series of ‘reckless’ and ‘appalling’ policy errors, according to a damning Commons public accounts committee report. Advising hospitals to discharge thousands of patients into care homes without knowing if they had coronavirus was an example of this, they said.

Taking aim at Matt Hancock over the scandal, Mr Cummings claimed the Health Secretary 'categorically' told the Prime Minister in March that all hospital patients would be being allowed into care homes

But he alleged that Boris Johnson was furious when he returned to office at the end of April following his near-death battle with coronavirus to discover Mr Hancock's promise wasn't kept

Taking aim at Matt Hancock over the scandal, Mr Cummings claimed the Health Secretary ‘categorically’ told the Prime Minister in March that all hospital patients would be being allowed into care homes. But he alleged that Boris Johnson was furious when he returned to office at the end of April following his near-death battle with coronavirus to discover the promise wasn’t kept. Mr Johnson is pictured today in the House of Commons, while Mr Hancock was snapped running outside his London home this morning

Dominic Cummings’ bombshell evidence

The initial apology: ‘The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its Government in a crisis like this. When the public needed us most the Government failed. I would like to say to all the families of those who died unnecessarily how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made and for my own mistakes at that.’ 

On Boris Johnson’s attitude to Covid: ‘In February the Prime Minister regarded this as just a scare story. He described it as the new swine flu… The view of various officials inside No10 was if we have the PM chairing Cobra meetings and he just tells everyone ”it’s swine flu don’t worry about it, I am going to get Chris Whitty to inject me live on TV with coronavirus so everyone realise it’s nothing to be frightened of”, that would not help actual serious planning.’

On the first lockdown timing: ‘In retrospect it is clear that the official plan was wrong, it is clear that the whole advice was wrong, and I think it is clear that we obviously should have locked down essentially the first week of March at the latest. We certainly should have been doing all of these things weeks before we did, I think it’s unarguable that that is the case.’ 

On No10 in March 2020: ‘It was like a scene from Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum saying the aliens are here and your whole plan is broken and you need a new plan.’

On Boris being distracted by Carrie and Trump: ‘It sounds so surreal couldn’t possibly be true … that day, the Times had run a huge story about the Prime Minister and his girlfriend and their dog. The Prime Minister’s girlfriend was going completely crackers about this story and demanding that the press office deal with that. So we had this sort of completely insane situation in which part of the building was saying are we going to bomb Iraq? Part of the building was arguing about whether or not we’re going to do quarantine or not do quarantine, the Prime Minister has his girlfriend going crackers about something completely trivial.’ 

On Health Secretary Matt Hancock: ‘I think the Secretary of State for Health should’ve been fired for at least 15, 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the Cabinet room and publicly. There’s no doubt at all that many senior people performed far, far disastrously below the standards which the country has a right to expect. I think the Secretary of State for Health is certainly one of those people. I said repeatedly to the Prime Minister that he should be fired, so did the Cabinet Secretary, so did many other senior people.’ 

At least 25,000 patients were moved from hospitals to care homes between March 17 and April 15, when there was a lack of rigorous testing. Estimates suggest around two-thirds weren’t swabbed.

The National Audit Office, which reviewed the scandal, said hospitals were told on March 17 to ‘discharge urgently’ all in-patients medically fit to leave in order to increase capacity’.

Its report at the time added: ‘Due to government policy at the time, not all patients were tested for Covid before discharge, with priority given to patients with symptoms.

‘On April 15, the policy was changed to test all those being discharged into care homes. It is not known how many patients discharged to care homes had Covid at the point they left hospital.’

Care home bosses also warned that their staff didn’t have enough access to personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and aprons. The industry also warned of a lack of testing at the start of the crisis, when swabs were rationed because of a lack of supply. 

Officials also asked care homes to take Covid patients again in the winter. Under the scheme, designed to free up hospital beds and protect the NHS in the second wave, Covid-secure homes which passed inspection were asked to house infected patients.

Nadra Ahmed, chairwoman of the National Care Association, said that Mr Cummings’ remarks about care homes were met with ‘disappointment’.

She said: ‘It is with great sadness that listening to Mr Cummings it emerges our initial thoughts and the evidence that was around us was right – that there was no shield around care homes, there was no thought on the impact on the vulnerable people that we care for.

‘People were being discharged out of hospital into our services to save the NHS and put not only the people discharged, their lives, were put at risk, but the people who were in our services at risk.

‘My reaction is great disappointment that the sector was lied to from the outset – we were lied to about any plan, it is clear there was no plan; we were lied to about the protective shield when we know there was no protective shield and it is disappointing to note that the testing that we were promised never took place.’

Shadow social care minister Liz Kendall said: ‘Mr Cummings’ comments have revealed what we knew all along – that the Government’s ‘protective shield’ around care homes during this pandemic did not exist.

‘Over 30,000 care home residents have died of coronavirus during this pandemic – 25,000 elderly people were discharged from hospitals to care homes without any tests whatsoever, and frontline care workers were left without PPE.

‘The Government was much too slow to act to protect residents and staff. As we emerge from this pandemic ministers must put in place a plan to transform social care and ensure that care homes never again face a crisis of this scale.’

Labour MP Barbara Keeley, a member of the committee questioning Mr Cummings, tweeted: ‘The evidence from Dominic Cummings today was clear – at the start of this pandemic, residents in care homes were sacrificed in order to free up beds in hospitals.

‘Matt Hancock must come explain why the promise that patients would be tested before discharge wasn’t kept.’

Downing Street defended its handling of care homes as Mr Cummings continued to give evidence.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘With regard to care homes, we’ve always been guided by the latest advice at that time and we’ve taken a number of steps to protect care home residents and those being discharged from hospitals into care homes.’

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR CARE HOMES? A TIMELINE OF FAILINGS

FEBRUARY – SAGE scientists warned Government ‘very early on’ about the risk to care homes

Britain’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, revealed in April that he and other senior scientists warned politicians ‘very early on’ about the risk COVID-19 posed to care homes.   

He said: ‘So very early on we looked at a number of topics, we looked at nosocomial infection very early on, that’s the spread in hospitals, and we flagged that as something that the NHS needed to think about. 

‘We flagged the fact that we thought care homes would be an important area to look at, and we flagged things like vaccine development and so on. So we try to take a longer term view of things as well as dealing with the urgent and immediate areas.’

The SAGE committee  met for the first time on January 22, suggesting ‘very early on’ in its discussions was likely the end of January or the beginning of February. 

MARCH – Hospital patients discharged to homes without tests

In March and April at least 25,000 people were discharged from NHS hospitals into care homes without getting tested for coronavirus, a report by the National Audit Office found.

This move came at the peak of the outbreak and has been blamed for ‘seeding’ Covid-19 outbreaks in the homes which later became impossible to control.

NHS England issued an order to its hospitals to free up as many beds as they could, and later sent out joint guidance with the Department of Health saying that patients did not need to be tested beforehand. 

Chair of the public accounts committee and a Labour MP in London, Meg Hillier, said: ‘Residents and staff were an afterthought yet again: out of sight and out of mind, with devastating consequences.’ 

MARCH – Public Health England advice still did not raise alarm about care home risk and allowed visits

An early key error in the handling of the crisis, social care consultant Melanie Henwood told the Mail on Sunday, was advice issued by Public Health England (PHE) on February 25 that it remained ‘very unlikely’ people in care homes would become infected as there was ‘currently no transmission of Covid-19 in the UK’.

Yet a fortnight earlier the UK Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling committee had concluded: ‘It is a realistic probability that there is already sustained transmission in the UK, or that it will become established in the coming weeks.’

On March 13, PHE advice for care homes changed ‘asking no one to visit who has suspected Covid-19 or is generally unwell’ – but visits were still allowed.

Three days later, Mr Johnson said: ‘Absolutely, we don’t want to see people unnecessarily visiting care homes.’

MARCH/APRIL – Testing not readily available to care home residents

In March and April coronavirus swab tests – to see who currently has the disease – were rationed and not available to all care home residents suspected of having Covid-19.

Government policy dictated that a sample of residents would be tested if one showed symptoms, then an outbreak would be declared and anyone else with symptoms presumed to be infected without a test.

The Department of Health has been in control of who gets Covid-19 tests and when, based on UK testing capacity. 

MARCH/APRIL – Bosses warned homes didn’t have enough PPE 

Care home bosses were furious in March and April – now known to have been the peak of the UK’s epidemic – that their staff didn’t have enough access to personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and aprons.

A letter sent from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) to the Department of Health saw the care chiefs accuse a senior figure at the Department of overseeing a ‘shambolic response’. 

Adass said it was facing ‘confusion’ and additional work as a result of mixed messaging put out by the Government.

It said the situation around PPE, which was by then mandatory for all healthcare workers, was ‘shambolic’ and that deliveries had been ‘paltry’ or ‘haphazard’.

A shortage of PPE has been a consistent issue from staff in care homes since the pandemic began, and the union Unison revealed at the beginning of May that it had already received 3,600 reports about inadequate access to PPE from workers in the sector.

APRIL – Care home deaths left out of official fatality count

The Department of Health refused to include people who had died outside of hospitals in its official daily death count until April 29, three weeks after deaths had peaked in the UK. 

It started to include the ‘all settings’ measure from that date and added on 3,811 previously uncounted Covid-19 deaths on the first day.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk