The British government’s decision in spring 2020 to send hospital patients back to care homes without testing them for coronavirus was illegal, a British court ruled on Wednesday, weighing in on what has become a defining scandal for Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
During the first wave of the pandemic in Britain, when large-scale testing was not yet available, the government ordered thousands of older hospital patients – some of whom were infected with the virus – to be sent back to nursing homes to prevent a flood. virus cases from overwhelming National Health Service hospitals.
With a shortage of protective equipment and asymptomatic spread of the virus, the early stages of the pandemic devastated British nursing homes, a fatal pattern also seen in Europe and the United States.
In its judgment on Wednesday, the High Court in London said policy decisions made by then UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock in March and April 2020 were unlawful and “disregarded the risk to residents elderly and vulnerable not to show symptoms”. transmission.”
Around 20,000 nursing home residents in England and Wales died of Covid-related causes between March and June 2020, according to official government data.
A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said on Wednesday the court found Mr Hancock had “acted reasonably in all respects”, and added that Public Health England – a government health agency that has since been replaced by two others – had not given ministers the latest information on asymptomatic transmission.
The court ruling came in a lawsuit brought against Mr Hancock and Public Health England by two women whose fathers died in care homes in 2020.
Mr Johnson’s government has come under fire for a series of pandemic-related missteps. In October, a parliamentary inquiry found that the government’s initial response “constitutes one of the biggest public health failures the UK has ever seen”, resulting in what it called thousands of preventable deaths.
Charlie Williams, spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, an advocacy group in Britain, said his family had assumed his father would be safe from the virus in a care home. Her father died in the house in April 2020.
“Now we must see those responsible for those dark days held accountable and the lessons learned to save lives, ensuring the dark scenes of Spring 2020 never happen again,” he said in a statement. Twitter Statement.