Boris Johnson is facing renewed questions over his efforts to protect vulnerable care home residents from coronavirus after Labour used a new report to claim the sector was an ‘afterthought’ in the outbreak.
Whitehall’s spending watchdog confirmed on Friday that 25,000 hospital patients were discharged into care homes in England at the height of the pandemic without all being tested for Covid-19.
And the National Audit Office (NAO) added that the central stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) lacked items such as gowns and visors, despite an independent committee recommending their inclusion last year.
Conservative former health secretary Jeremy Hunt joined Labour MPs in criticising the Government, saying it was “extraordinary that no one appeared to consider the clinical risk to care homes”.
The report was published after the head of the NHS Test and Trace programme key to preventing a second wave of infections while easing the lockdown admitted it is not yet “gold standard”.
Baroness Harding insisted it was “fit for purpose” after figures showed a third of people who tested positive could not be reached by officials or failed to provide details of their contacts.
The lockdown was being eased across the UK amid concerns of the impacts it was having on people’s wellbeing and the economy.
Amid grim warnings over the nation’s finances, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) will provide on Friday its estimate for GDP in April, the first full month of the severe restrictions.
The ONS will also give an update on its infection survey for England, providing a figure for the number of new cases as the lockdown is eased.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) insisted it took the “right decisions at the right time” but was facing questions over its handling of the crisis in care homes.
The NAO report said that one in three care homes had declared an outbreak by May 17 and that 25,000 patients were discharged from hospital into the sector between March 17 and April 15.
“It is not known how many had Covid-19 at the point of discharge,” the report said, noting the policy at the time was not to test all those being discharged to care homes.
Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons public accounts committee, said: “Residents and staff were an afterthought yet again: out of sight and out of mind, with devastating consequences.”
Mr Hunt, who chairs the Commons health and social care committee, said: “Whilst the impact of such discharges meant the NHS was never short of beds or ventilators it seems extraordinary that no one appeared to consider the clinical risk to care homes despite widespread knowledge that the virus could be carried asymptomatically.”
Labour MP Ms Hillier added that frontline health workers had been “badly let down by the Government’s failure to prepare properly” over the report’s findings on PPE.
A DHSC spokesman said the department has been “working tirelessly” to reduce transmission and save lives in care homes.
To control #coronavirus, testing and tracing must become a new way of life.
This video explains what you need to do to play your part.
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) June 11, 2020
“Since the launch of whole care home testing, the Government has provided over one million test kits to almost 9,000 care homes and on Monday we announced that every care home in England will now be offered a coronavirus test for all residents and staff, even if they have no symptoms,” he added.
In other developments:
– Ministers were facing calls to immediately publish Public Health England recommendations on how to protect black, Asian and minority ethnic communities from Covid-19.
– Health Secretary Matt Hancock said as many as 80% of people who tested positive for coronavirus during a study of the pandemic in England had not displayed any symptoms.
– All shops in Northern Ireland were being allowed to open from Friday.
– A total of 79,573 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in April 2020, down from 199,217 in April 2019 – a fall of 60%.