Care home leaders have rejected Matt Hancock’s claims the government threw a ‘protective ring’ around them in the early stages of coronavirus crisis, The Independent has reported.
Mike Padgham, the chairman of the Independent Care Group, representing providers in York and North Yorkshire, said care homes were “forgotten” at the start of the pandemic.
It comes as the health secretary is facing increasing pressure over his treatment of care home residents.
Some were discharged from hospital and sent back to their care homes without being tested for Covid-19 in the early parts of last year.
Former Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings accused Mr Hancock of lying to the prime minister over this issue when he gave evidence to MPs last week, adding that the suggestion care homes were shielded were “complete nonsense”.
Mr Padgham told Sky News: “We had someone who was transferred to us from hospital on 19 March,” he said.
“At that time, we thought testing was happening, in fact we found it wasn’t and we actually had to go and get the test ourselves from the hospital to make sure that they weren’t positive. By the time we got the test, they were readmitted back and unfortunately passed away.”
“We were worried because we saw the NHS was dealing with a very difficult issue, they had PPE, we didn’t and we were reassuring our staff and our residents that we knew what was happening and doing the best we possibly could but it was frightening. And if it weren’t for the hard work of social care staff, and in fact the local authorities in our area, those figures (of deaths in care homes) I am confident would have been much, much worse.”
He added: “I don’t believe myself there was a ring of protection thrown round us.”
Mr Hancock told a Downing Street press conference that “right from the start we have tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes”.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi defended Mr Hancock, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr show “the government absolutely threw a protective ring around care homes.”
The Sunday Times reports that social care leaders wrote to Mr Hancock on 26 March last year to warning him care homes were being “pressured” into taking patients who had not been tested and who had symptoms of coronavirus.
The email, sent by Lisa Lenton, the then chairwoman of the Care Provider Alliance, which represents thousands of care homes, told the health secretary managers were “terrified” a lack of testing was causing outbreaks in homes.
The Sunday Telegraph also reported that guidance from Mr Hancock’s department ordered hospitals to discharge patients without any mention of a need to test them first.