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Family's anguish as court rules Covid discharge decision was unlawful

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The decision to discharge untested patients from hospitals to care homes at the start of the coronavirus pandemic has been deemed unlawful by the High Court.

The controversial policy is thought to have contributed to hundreds of deaths across Norfolk – with some 871 care home residents having died in the first year of the pandemic in Norfolk alone.

The ruling came after two women, Dr Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris, took the former health secretary, Matt Hancock, and Public Health England to court.

A court has ruled that the decision to discharge untested people into care homes at the start of the Covid pandemic was unlawful.
A court has ruled that the decision to discharge untested people into care homes at the start of the Covid pandemic was unlawful.

They partially succeeded in their claims that key policies of discharging patients from hospitals into care homes were implemented with no testing and no suitable isolation arrangements in the homes.

The judges concluded that, despite there being “growing awareness” of the risk of asymptomatic transmission throughout March 2020, there was no evidence that the former health secretary addressed the issue of the risk to care home residents of such transmission.

The ruling has prompted Norfolk people to reflect on their own experiences of how the virus was initially handled.

Claire Ling, who lost her 93-year-old grandmother, Lily Roythorne, to Covid on March 29, 2020, said it was “absolutely crazy” that elderly patients were discharged from hospitals into care homes, without sufficient testing.

Mrs Ling, of Dersingham, said: “It would certainly have made a difference if there had been those proper measures in place for people leaving hospital.

“Letting people just go back into that kind of environment [care homes], is absolutely crazy.”

Mrs Roythorne died just 14 days after Mrs Ling and other family members last visited her in her Lynn care home.

“In that time we’d had one video call with her,” said Mrs Ling.

“They [the care home] didn’t know she had Covid, until she went into hospital and that was literally hours before she died. I don’t actually think they’d had the result back until she’d died.”

A spokesman for Mr Hancock, who resigned as Health Secretary in June last year days after visiting Lynn's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, following revelations about his relationship with an aide, claimed the case “comprehensively clears ministers of any wrongdoing and finds Mr Hancock acted reasonably on all counts”.

“The court also found that Public Health England failed to tell ministers what they knew about asymptomatic transmission.

“Mr Hancock has frequently stated how he wished this had been brought to his attention earlier.”

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