What next after the High Court’s Covid care home ruling?

Government is ‘staring down the barrel of potentially very costly claims’ after victory for bereaved relatives

Matt Hancock outside 10 Downing Street
Matt Hancock claimed the government threw a protective ring around care homes
(Image credit: Rob Pinney/Getty Images)

Hospital patients were unlawfully sent to care homes during the Covid pandemic despite more than 20 warnings of asymptomatic Covid-19 transmission, the High Court has said.

The ruling has led to renewed calls for former health secretary Matt Hancock to apologise for his actions and an expert has predicted that the government could now be facing “very costly” legal claims.

The ruling

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A 75-page High Court ruling found that the government acted unlawfully when it sent untested patients into care homes in England at the start of the pandemic.

Public Health England advised ministers as early as March 2020 against allowing hospital patients who may have had Covid-19 but who did not have symptoms to be transferred from hospitals to care homes, reported the i news site.

Indeed, ruled Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Garnham, there were more than 20 occasions, between late January and the middle of March 2020, when scientific advisers and academic papers warned it was likely that Covid could be passed on without symptoms.

The judges said it was “apparent” that ministers were “alive to the possibility of pre-symptomatic infection and transmission”.

This “undermines” claims made yesterday by Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock, the health secretary at the time, that they did not know that Covid-19 could be transmitted by people without symptoms, said i news.

What happens next?

The ruling is a victory for bereaved families, who said care home residents were “thrown to the wolves” during the pandemic, The Guardian reported. Around 12,500 care home residents died during the early weeks of the crisis, the paper said.

It is thought that yesterday’s ruling could help them bring compensation claims. Michelle Penn, from law firm BLM, told The Guardian: “Should any care home operators themselves face personal injury claims during this period, it’s likely they will seek contribution from the government to cover these costs.” Therefore, she added, “the government is now staring down the barrel of potentially very costly claims”.

The Telegraph said that the ruling has “considerable political and legal implications” and means Hancock “cannot now hide behind officials” any longer.

For grieving families, yesterday’s judgment is not the end of the matter but a springboard. “My view is that this government is guilty of gross negligence and the manslaughter of my father,” wrote Charlie Williams, whose father Rex died in a Coventry care home, for The Guardian.

He added that “the judgment gives me a little hope in terms of the progress we’re making in holding this government to account”.

Dr Cathy Gardner, whose father died in a care home during the pandemic, is calling on Hancock to apologise, reported The Times.

She said it is now “clear” that his claim that the government threw a protective ring around care homes “was nothing more than a despicable lie, of which he ought to be ashamed and for which he ought to apologise”.

However, a spokesman for Hancock insisted the case “comprehensively clears ministers of any wrongdoing and finds Mr Hancock acted reasonably on all counts”.

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