This site is intended for health professionals only

Read the latest issue online
Overwhelmed and undervalued


Discharging untested patients to care homes was ‘unlawful’, rules High Court

Discharging untested patients to care homes was ‘unlawful’, rules High Court


Government policy to discharge patients into care homes in England without testing them for Covid at the start of the pandemic was unlawful, the High Court has ruled.

Presiding judges Lord Justic Bean and Mr Justice Graham found government policies were ‘unlawful’ because they ‘failed to take into account the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents from non-symptomatic transmission’.

Two women, Dr Cathy Gardner and Ms Fay Harris, had taken former health and social care secretary Matt Hancock and Public Health England (PHE) to court after losing their fathers to Covid.

Their barrister highlighted to the judges that 20,000 care home residents had died from Covid in England and Wales between March and June 2020.

A judgment summary said: ‘The judges found that it was irrational for the DHSC not to have advised until mid-April 2020 that where an asymptomatic patient (other than one who had tested negative for Covid-19) was admitted to a care home, he or she should, so far as practicable, be kept apart from other residents for 14 days.’

It described how Mr Hancock’s policies meant elderly patients could be ‘moved from hospital to a care home’ and ‘infect other residents before manifesting symptoms, or even without ever manifesting symptoms.’

This came despite the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance raising concerns about the risks in a radio interview as early as 13 March. Levels of risk had also been outlined in papers from late January, the document said.

The full judgment continued: ‘But, although there had been growing awareness of the risk of asymptomatic transmission… There is no evidence that the [health secretary] or anyone advising him addressed the issue of the risk to care home residents of asymptomatic transmission.’

The court dismissed the claimants’ case – brought against both the Government and NHS England – that the policies breached human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a statement made outside the court, Dr Gardner called for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation, the BBC reports.

She said she ‘believed all along that my father and other residents of care homes were neglected and let down by the government’.

‘The High Court has now vindicated that belief, and our campaign to expose the truth,’ she added.

Dr Gardner’s father Michael Gibson died on 3 April 2020 while living in a care home in Oxfordshire, while Ms Harris’s father Donald Harris died on 1 May 2020 after an outbreak in his care home.