Pressure mounts on Matt Hancock with claim he was summoned to see PM over care home tests

‘There was no shield’: Care homes boss says sector sacrificed on altar to save NHS

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 28 May 2021 14:56 BST
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Hancock denies promising tests before patients went to care homes

Pressure on under-fire Matt Hancock has stepped up with a claim that Dominic Cummings has documentary proof that Boris Johnson summoned the health secretary to Downing Street in May last year to explain why elderly hospital patients had been discharged into care homes without Covid tests.

Reports suggested that the word “negligence” was used in documents as No 10 demanded information from the Department of Health on how Covid-19 had been seeded into care homes.

The transfer of around 25,000 untested patients is believed to have contributed to a wave of almost 20,000 deaths from coronavirus in care homes in England and Wales last spring - around 40 per cent of the total national death toll at the time.

But sources close to the health secretary said they did not recognise the account given by ITV political editor Robert Peston, pointing out that Mr Hancock had many meetings with the PM to discuss the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Mr Hancock’s claim to have put a “shield” around care homes was trashed as “absolute rubbish” by the executive chairman of the National Care Association.

Speaking on BBC1’s Question Time, Nadra Ahmed said: ”There was no shield.”

Ms Ahmed added: “He put social care on the altar to be slaughtered while we worked on the mantra that the NHS must be protected.

“I absolutely understand why we needed the NHS to be running in the way that it was because we didn’t know what was coming round the corner.

“I think what we didn’t know was the consequence of ignoring social care.”

Mr Hancock last night denied Cummings’ allegation that he promised the PM last March that all patients would be tested for Covid-19 before being sent into care, insisting that he had committed only to do so once capacity in the testing system had been built up.

His defence amounted to an admission that he authorised the transfer of untested patients, some 25,000 of whom are believed to have been moved into homes as the NHS fought to free up bed space for the influx of emergency Covid cases last spring.

Some 19,286 Covid-related deaths were recorded in care homes between March and June 2020 and many in the sector believe the true first-wave toll was higher, as there were around 35,000 “excess deaths” in homes above normal seasonal levels.

In his explosive seven hours of testimony to a parliamentary enquiry on Wednesday, Mr Johnson’s former senior aide alleged that Hancock gave the PM a “categorical” assurance in March last year that patients would be tested before being moved.

But the health secretary last night insisted that his “recollection of events” was that he committed to delivering the tests only “when we could do it” and that it took time to build up the necessary capacity.

Now it has been reported that Cummings has documents showing Mr Hancock was summoned by the prime minister’s office to a meeting on 4 May to explain whether he had misled the PM and then cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill about the tests.

Peston quotes a source as saying that Downing Street officials asked the Department of Health for information on what had gone wrong. He reported that there was a fear in No 10 that Mr Hancock’s “negligence” had “killed people in care homes” and that the term “negligence” was used in the documents.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “The health secretary and the prime minister are in constant contact.

“Their focus has at all times been on saving lives and protecting the NHS.

“The health secretary will continue to work closely with the prime minister to deliver the vaccine rollout, tackle the risk posed by variants and support the NHS and social care sector to recover from this pandemic.”

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