The Government sent hospital patients with Covid-19 back to care homes and suggestions they were shielded are “complete nonsense”, Dominic Cummings has said.
Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser suggested the Prime Minister was furious when he came back to work after recovering from coronavirus to find that untested patients had been discharged to care homes in England, thereby allowing the virus to spread.
He said Health Secretary Matt Hancock had told Mr Johnson previously that they would be tested.
Mr Cummings told MPs: “So that was one of the other things that I, that we, found shocking, that when we realised in April that this had happened, the Prime Minister said a less polite version of ‘what on earth are you telling me?’.
“When he came back after being ill: ‘What on earth has happened with all these people in care homes? Hancock told us in the Cabinet Room that people were going to be tested before they went back to care homes, what the hell happened?’”
Mr Cummings said he and the Prime Minister had been told “categorically in March that people will be tested before they went back to care homes”.
He added: “We only subsequently found out that hadn’t happened.
“Now all the Government rhetoric of ‘we put a shield around care homes’ and blah blah, was complete nonsense.
“Quite the opposite of putting a shield around them, we sent people with Covid back to the care homes.”
In April 2020, Mr Hancock came under fire for allowing patients to be discharged to care homes without a Covid test.
During media interviews, he insisted that from the beginning of the pandemic, the Government had tried to “throw a protective ring around our care homes”.
There have been 36,275 deaths involving Covid-19 in care homes since the pandemic began, according to the latest figures from the UK’s statistics agencies.
Nadra Ahmed, chairwoman of the National Care Association, said that Dominic Cummings’ remarks about care homes were met with “disappointment”.
She told the PA news agency: “It is with great sadness that listening to Mr Cummings it emerges that our initial thoughts and the evidence that was around us was right – that there was no shield around care homes, there was no thought on the impact on the vulnerable people that we care for.
“People were being discharged out of hospital into our services to save the NHS and put not only the people discharged, their lives, were put at risk, but the people who were in our services at risk.
“My reaction is great disappointment that the sector was lied to from the outset – we were lied to about any plan, it is clear there was no plan; we were lied to about the protective shield when we know there was no protective shield and it is disappointing to note that the testing that we were promised never took place.”
Vic Rayner, chief executive of the National Care Forum, the association for not-for-profit care providers, added: “The total focus on protecting the NHS and the lack of support to the care sector had a very severe and devastating impact. The reality of how hard care homes and those who received care and support have been hit in this pandemic is sadly very evident for all to see.”
Sue Learner, editor of carehome.co.uk, added: “Putting people with a highly infectious disease among a group of elderly and vulnerable people with low immune systems was unforgiveable.
“Mr Cummings is merely voicing the disquiet that people felt last year as the pandemic unfolded, that the Government either saw care home residents as very much peripheral or completely underestimated the toxicity of the virus.”
Shadow social care minister Liz Kendall said: “Mr Cummings’ comments have revealed what we knew all along – that the Government’s ‘protective shield’ around care homes during this pandemic did not exist.
“Over 30,000 care home residents have died of coronavirus during this pandemic – 25,000 elderly people were discharged from hospitals to care homes without any tests whatsoever, and frontline care workers were left without PPE.
“The Government was much too slow to act to protect residents and staff. As we emerge from this pandemic ministers must put in place a plan to transform social care and ensure that care homes never again face a crisis of this scale.”
Labour MP Barbara Keeley, a member of the committee questioning Mr Cummings, tweeted: “The evidence from Dominic Cummings today was clear – at the start of this pandemic, residents in care homes were sacrificed in order to free up beds in hospitals.
“@MattHancock must come explain why the promise that patients would be tested before discharge wasn’t kept.”
Downing Street defended its handling of care homes as Mr Cummings continued to give evidence.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “With regard to care homes, we’ve always been guided by the latest advice at that time and we’ve taken a number of steps to protect care home residents and those being discharged from hospitals into care homes.”