Families sue government for failing to protect care homes from Covid

by | Aug 25, 2023 | Health

By Alison HoltSocial affairs editorThirty families are starting legal action against the government, care homes and several hospitals in England over the deaths of their relatives in the early days of the Covid pandemic.The families argue not enough was done to protect their loved ones from the virus. They are claiming damages for loss of life and the distress caused. The government says it specifically sought to safeguard care home residents using the best evidence available.The legal claims focus on the decision in March 2020 to rapidly discharge hospital patients into care homes without testing or a requirement for them to isolate. The cases follow a 2022 High Court judgement that ruled the policy was unlawful – as it failed to take into account the risk to elderly and vulnerable care home residents of asymptomatic transmission of the virus.Between early March and early June 2020, nearly 20,000 care home residents in England and Wales died with Covid-19. That’s about a third of all care home deaths during that period.The government said at the time it had “tried to put a protective ring” around care home residents. One of the cases is being brought by Liz Weager, whose 95-year-old mother Margaret tested positive for the virus in her care home in May 2020 and died later in hospital. “What was happening in the management of those care homes? What advice were they having?” Liz asks. “It goes back to the government. There was a lack of preparedness, which then translated down to the care home.”Liz WeagerAll the families are bringing claims for damages against the secretary of state for health and social care – plus the individual care homes and hospitals involved in each case. They argue the European Convention on Human Rights was breached, including a failure to protect their relatives’ rights to life and to protect them from discrimination.Emma Jones, from Leigh Day solicitors is representing the families. She says she hopes for “a full and thorough investigation into the deaths, which might help our clients to feel they have obtained justice for their loved ones”.The diaryLiz Weager believes important evidence is provided by her mother’s diary – a small black book embossed with the date 2020 and packed with bits of paper.”She kept diaries all her life,” says Liz. “This one is particularly special.”Although Margaret’s physical health had declined in her nineties, “mentally she was all there still,” says Liz. “And she knew everything that was going on in the world.”Margaret’s final diary mainly documents the times of visits, phone calls and the staff who came in to look after her – but there are also observations which paint a picture of what was going on in the care home more widely. Her daughter feels it provides a timeline which shows a care system under huge pressure in the early weeks of the pandemic.On 3 March 2020, the government sets out its Coronavirus action plan, with the then-Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, telling people “our country remains extremely well-prepared”.It is also the day that experts on the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) talk about care homes for the first time – it is their 12th meeting. The minutes mention the difficulty of introducing social distancing in residential settings. Liz WeagerMeanwhile, Margaret has other matters on her mind. She writes she is feeling well, “but the staff situation is bad”.In the days that follow, the virus takes hold in the UK. Most of the focus is on the NHS. Care providers supporting vulnerable elderly and disabled clients warn they do not have enough personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves. They are also calling for testing and clearer, quicker government guidance. On 17 March, the NHS tells hospitals to rapidly discharge patients where possible, including into care homes. There is no requirement for testing or isolation. Margaret’s family say they were later told that some hospital patients had ended up in her care home.On 23 March, the whole count …

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