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Social care sector ‘terribly’ prepared for pandemic, says Matt Hancock

Social care sector ‘terribly’ prepared for pandemic, says Matt Hancock

The former health secretary has admitted the adult social care sector was not well prepared for a pandemic and that the government lacked proper data to mitigate the impact on care homes.

Giving evidence to a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic, Matt Hancock said that the government lacked information to ensure local authorities had proper pandemic planning in place for social care settings during Covid-19.

Asked whether he though the adult social care sector was well prepared for a pandemic, Mr Hancock told the inquiry: ‘No, it was terrible.’

Mr Hancock revealed that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) was not aware of the total number of care homes in the country when the pandemic hit and confirmed that the department had ‘no means of finding out’ whether local authorities had proper protections in place.

Mr Hancock also told the inquiry that at the outbreak of the pandemic, only two local authorities had any pandemic preparedness plan, both of which were ‘wholly inadequate’.

However, Mr Hancock appeared to try and shift responsibility for the state of preparedness from the DHSC to local authorities, as he noted the department’s lack of ability to act.

‘The obligation for the policy rested with me. The obligation for delivery in social care rests with local authorities. They’re the ones who contract individual care homes,’ he said during the inquiry hearing on Tuesday.

‘In a national crisis, this is a very significant problem. Because I had the title, I was accountable, but I didn’t have the levers to act.’

The former health secretary confirmed to the inquiry that as of January 2020, the DHSC had no ‘single coherent plan’ to identify vulnerable service users, no central plan for sharing data between public and private providers, and no single national guidance for pandemic preparedness.

Mr Hancock also told the inquiry that the UK government’s attitude to the pandemic was misguided, adding that the strategy was to ‘plan for the consequences of a disaster’.

‘Can we buy enough body bags? Where are we going to bury the dead? And that was completely wrong,’ he said.

In written evidence to the inquiry, Mr Hancock added: ‘There isn’t a day that goes by that I do not think about all those who lost their lives to this awful disease or the loved ones they have left behind.

‘We discovered over the first three months of 2020 that the nation’s preparations for a pandemic of this nature were not good enough.

‘In many areas there are lessons to be learned to prepare for the next pandemic, both where things went wrong, and where the UK response was exemplary.’

He added: ‘I express my heartfelt thanks to all those who rose to the enormous challenge of dealing with this unprecedented pandemic, in the NHS, social care, public health, civil service and much wider.’

Mr Hancock will appear in front of the inquiry again in the autumn, with other senior government officials who played key roles in the pandemic response.

The independent public inquiry was set up to examine the UK’s response to and impact of the Covid pandemic, and ‘learn lessons for the future’ and is chaired by Baroness Heather Hallett, a former Court of Appeal judge.

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