Social workers have hit back at claims by former Health Secretary Matt Hancock that the Covid virus was brought into homes by infected staff.
In his book, The Pandemic Diaries, which is serialized in the Daily Mail, Hancock said only a small proportion of cases were caused by his decision to discharge patients from hospital without testing.
“The vast majority of infections were brought in by the wider community, primarily by staff,” he wrote in May 2021, citing data from the UK Health Security Agency, which found that 1, 2% of nursing home cases between January and October 2020 were associated with hospital discharges.
He said the then chief executive of NHS England, Sir Simon Stevens, was ‘committed’ to ensuring that elderly patients who did not need urgent care were discharged from hospital to free up beds , whether for retirement homes or their own home.
Adam Purnell, who has managed Kepplegate care home in Lancashire throughout the pandemic, said he was outraged by the claim.
He said: “I will die on the hill I have stood on since the very beginning of the pandemic, which is that care home staff have acted with the utmost dedication and commitment, despite incredibly poor management by the Department of Health. Health and Social Affairs.
“Regarding the 1.2% stat, we weren’t testing people, we had no test to do that… so where did they get that stat from? There was no guidance from any authority, no funding, no training with PPE, no support at all until the very end of mid 2020.
“Hancock’s actions have caused so much danger to the social care sector. His latest statements are a disgrace.
In his April 2, 2020 diary – days after the first national lockdown was imposed – Hancock acknowledged that patients leaving hospital would not be tested, but said care homes had been given clear guidance on measures of isolation.
“The tragic but honest truth is that we don’t have enough testing capacity to verify anyway,” he wrote. “It’s a real nightmare, but it’s the reality.
“In these circumstances, we need to ensure that anyone who moves from a hospital to a care home is kept apart from other residents. I hope this message will filter and be followed.
Two months later, he wrote: “The main takeaway is that the virus is mainly brought in by staff, not older people who have been discharged from hospital. That explains a lot.
Karolina Gerlich, executive director of the Care Workers’ Charity, called Hancock’s comments “outrageous, ridiculous and unacceptable”.
She said the spread of Covid in 2020 was due to the policy of discharging people from hospitals without knowing if they had been infected – a policy introduced by Hancock.
“It was an awful time. There was a late supply of PPE and then a complete lack of guidance on how to use it. At one point we were so desperate that some staff were using bags bins as aprons and washed their hands until they were believed because of the government’s emphasis on hand washing.Some staff even got themselves PPE just to have a form of protection.
“Care home staff across the UK were making huge sacrifices, including not seeing family and friends for weeks and working overtime, to protect care home residents.
“We couldn’t say no to local authorities telling care providers they had to take people in, so a lot of staff had to scramble to get by. Almost daily – sometimes conflicting – regulations came to us from Public Health England, the Care Quality Commission, the Department of Health and Social Care and local authorities.
The former minister – who quit after breaking social distancing guidelines during an affair with aide Gina Coladangelo, and recently appeared on ITV’s I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! – said he did not want to point fingers at staff during the worst months of the pandemic for fear of undermining morale.
“I didn’t want to say it, I didn’t want to demoralize the staff at the time by talking about it in a way that would have been very difficult to do in a sensitive way,” he said. “The horror of what the virus has done to people in care homes around the world will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
In a new excerpt published on Saturday, Hancock said he had resigned as health secretary after his colleagues failed to defend him publicly after it emerged he was having an affair with an aide.
In a diary entry, Hancock recounts how, on Thursday June 24, 2021, he went to see Johnson in Downing Street to tell him that the Sun was about to publish details of his affair. He said the newspaper accused him of bringing Coladangelo to his department because of their affair – which he said was fake – and of breaking Covid guidelines on social distancing.
Johnson replied, “Well, you didn’t break the law. The guidelines are not binding – they are recommendations. So I will stay by your side.
However, over the weekend, he realized his position was becoming untenable. “In private, I was still getting positive messages from colleagues. In public, few were prepared to defend me. Politically, I was increasingly isolated,” he wrote.
“I went to Checkers to see the Prime Minister. I explained that I had thought about what had happened and how it had made people feel – and that my decision was made. The damage to my family and the government was too great.
“I told Boris I had to quit.”
Hancock also described this farcical scene in the garden of Checkers – the Prime Minister’s official country residence – as they attempted to film his resignation statement.
“At the end of the day, the great machinery of state was nowhere. It was just me and the prime minister fumbling around with an iPhone. He was standing on the grass, holding the phone as I said my piece. Took a few tries to get it right,” he wrote.
“He nodded with sympathetic encouragement so much throughout the first take that the camera waved up and down. In the end, it wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t care: I had to get it out.