Matt Hancock blames Public Health England after damning High Court ruling on Covid in care homes

Former health secretary ‘frequently stated how he wished [issue of asymptomatic transmission’ had been brought to his attention earlier’, says spokesman

Tom Batchelor
Wednesday 27 April 2022 12:28
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Matt Hancock refuses to apologise to families of care home coronavirus victims

Former health secretary Matt Hancock has blamed Public Health England (PHE) for failing to alert him to asymptomatic transmission of Covid after a court ruled that the government policy of discharging patients to care homes during the early stages of the pandemic was unlawful.

In a ruling on Wednesday, Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Garnham concluded that policies contained in documents released in March and early April 2020 were unlawful because they failed to take into account the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents from non-symptomatic transmission of the virus.

They also said that, despite there being “growing awareness” of the risk of asymptomatic transmission throughout March 2020, there was no evidence that the then-health secretary addressed the issue of the risk to care home residents of such transmission.

::Follow the latest on the ruling over Covid care home failures here::

The judges said in their ruling: “In our judgment, this was not a binary question - a choice between on the one hand doing nothing at all, and on the other hand requiring all newly admitted residents to be quarantined.

“The document could, for example, have said that where an asymptomatic patient, other than one who has tested negative, is admitted to a care home, he or she should, so far as practicable, be kept apart from other residents for up to 14 days.

“Since there is no evidence that this question was considered by the Secretary of State, or that he was asked to consider it, it is not an example of a political judgment on a finely balanced issue.

“Nor is it a point on which any of the expert committees had advised that no guidance was required.

“The drafters of the documents of March 17 and April 2 simply failed to take into account the highly relevant consideration of the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents from asymptomatic transmission.”

However a spokesman for Mr Hancock pointed the finger of blame at the now defunct PHE, which has been replaced by the UK Health Security Agency.

The spokesman said the disgraced former minister had “frequently stated” that he wished the risks from asymptomatic transmission “had been brought to his attention earlier”.

Matt Hancock has dramatically quit as health secretary last June after admitting breaking Covid rules during an affair with an aide in his departmental office

The spokesman said: “This court case comprehensively clears ministers of any wrongdoing and finds Mr Hancock acted reasonably on all counts.

“The court also found that PHE (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.

“Mr Hancock’s thoughts are with everyone who lost loved ones, and we must ensure that all the right lessons are learned.”

Cathy Gardner (2nd left) and Fay Harris (2nd right), whose fathers died from Covid-19, leave the Royal Courts of Justice

The case was brought by Cathy Gardner, whose father Michael Gibson died, and Fay Harris, whose father Donald died.

Speaking outside the court, Ms Gardner said the ruling vindicated her belief that the government had “neglected” care home residents during the pandemic and justified “our campaign to expose the truth”.

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