Matt Hancock today blamed scientists for not testing people discharged from hospitals to care homes because they feared “false negatives.”
The health minister insisted that the government had ‘attempted’ to build a steel ring around care homes at the start of the crisis.
But he said there had been “challenges” due to a lack of testing capacity, as well as advice from scientists that screening individuals who had no symptoms would produce too many “false negatives.”
Mr Hancock also flatly denied Dominic Cummings’ claim that he lied to the Prime Minister about whether residents would be tested before being sent back from hospitals.
The comments came as Mr Hancock was grilled by a joint session of the House of Commons health and science committees.
Labor called the cabinet minister “dishonest at best” and said he had used information “selectively” to justify his “abject failure”.
During the evidence session, Mr. Hancock emphasized that he followed the clinical advice on care homes.
“We established a policy that people would be tested if tests were available. Then I started building up the testing capacity so we can deliver on that,” he said.
“The challenge was not only that we didn’t have the testing capacity, but the clinical advice was that a test on someone who had no symptoms could easily give a false negative and thus give false assurance that that person does not have the disease.
Matt Hancock insisted the government had ‘attempted’ to build a steel ring around care homes at the start of the crisis, but it had been ‘difficult’
“At the same time, clinicians were concerned that because it took four days to flip a test, if they left someone in the hospital for four days, they could get Covid and therefore go back to hospital with a negative result.” a nursing home. but to have caught it.’
Mr Hancock said the government had tried to throw a ‘protective ring’ around care homes but it had proved difficult.
“I think the key words in the sentence are ‘we tried’.” It was very difficult,” he said.
Every death in a care home weighs heavily and always will. We knew from the start, very early in January, that the impact of this disease was greatest on the elderly and therefore nursing homes would be a particular risk.
‘We’re putting money in. We made sure that PPE was as available as possible. We draw up guidelines for care homes. When we later had the test capacity – in July – we started testing for the staff on a weekly basis.’
Mr Hancock said at the start of the pandemic his powers over social care were “extremely limited” and the Department of Health and Social Care did not even have a list of care homes in England.
But he said he could “look in the mirror” about his decision. “I know I did that with the right motive to be honest with people,” he said.
Mr Hancock pointed to a recent report from Public Health England suggesting that just 1.6 percent of cases going to care homes came from people who had been discharged from hospital.
He said one of the reasons the proportion could be so low is that there were isolation rules for patients who were discharged to care homes because the testing capacity was not there.
The second reason is that a ‘much much higher’ proportion of staff enter a care home every day than the residents.
He said, ‘If you think of a care home and who physically goes in, the number of times that person goes through the front door a resident is really a pretty small part of the total.
The comments came as Mr Hancock was grilled by a joint session of the House of Commons health and science committees
Mr Hancock also flatly denied Dominic Cummings’ claim (pictured) that he lied to the Prime Minister about whether residents would be tested before being sent back from hospitals
“So I do understand why people are very strong on this point of residents going into care homes, but in terms of the volume of human movement and interaction with a care home, you can understand if you think about it that way, because this virus transmits between people of any type, whether you are a staff member or a resident … It is therefore the staff testing regime that was the big change we made over the summer, and then we learned all these lessons and we did an assessment with the caregivers, and CQC and others, and came up with the winter plan for the care home.
“And so in the second peak over the winter, the percentage of deaths that we had in care homes is much, much lower and that’s part of, that’s one of the many lessons we learn as we go through this.”
Mr Hancock said he cannot recall Mr Johnson being surprised at the situation at the care home when he returned from hospital in April.
“Not that I can remember,” he said.
According to the Guardian, Care England has raised concerns about ‘lack of testing in hospitals and in the healthcare sector’ ‘on several occasions’ to the Department of Health and Social Care.
The Care Providers Alliance is also said to have told the government in March 2020 to ‘prioritise testing for care residents’ and to email Mr Hancock directly to warn anyone discharged from hospital to social care facilities ‘MUST be tested before discharge’.
Shadow Social Welfare Secretary Liz Kendall said: ‘Matt Hancock was at best insincere in his testimony before the select committee today. He selectively used briefings, evidence and clinical advice to defend his track record rather than admit that he failed miserably to protect care homes during the pandemic.
Even Matt Hancock knows he has now categorically failed to put a protective ring around care homes. He has now used multiple excuses for not testing those released from care and family members who have lost loved ones will be frustrated and deeply upset that they still haven’t gotten the truth from the Secretary of State today.
“The government was far too slow to act to protect residents and staff. Now that we are out of this pandemic, ministers must put together a plan to transform social care and ensure that nursing homes never face a crisis of this magnitude again.”