Newly published documents reveal delays in action on the Covid-19 care home crisis that has now cost thousands of lives.
Public Health England (PHE) data, which first identified a massive spike in Covid-19 outbreaks in care homes, was sent to ministers in mid March, nearly a month before the government's Care Home Action Plan was published.
In that four week period, the number of care homes suffering respiratory disease outbreaks - nearly all linked to Covid-19 - increased ten-fold. There have now been more than 9,000 confirmed deaths from Covid-19 in care homes across the UK. The actual number could be far higher.
The spike in care home outbreaks first appeared in mid-March in PHE’s influenza surveillance reports, published every two weeks.
This is a routine surveillance programme to protect the elderly from flu, but also includes data from outbreaks of unexplained respiratory diseases being reported to local PHE teams by individual care homes.
Between March 5th and March 19th the number of care homes with respiratory outbreaks jumped from 22 to 109. That data was sent to ministers the same day, say PHE.
But newly published documents also reveal that this information wasn’t shared with independent scientists tasked with advising government on how to control the Covid-19 for another eight days - a period in which the number of care homes affected rose again from 109 to 239.
The minutes of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), published only yesterday, show that scientists were informed of a “relatively large increase” in respiratory outbreaks in care homes on March 27th.
It was only at this point that those modelling the outbreak were alerted to the rising number of Covid cases in care homes. Inclusion of this data was something which subsequently changed our understanding of the UK epidemic and the challenge we face in controlling it.
A PHE spokesperson said: “Care homes have always been a priority.
"Since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, PHE’s local Health Protection Teams have been working closely with care homes and the wider social care sector to provide advice and support to them in preventing and managing outbreaks.”
Data on Covid-19 cases in care homes was only made public on April 23rd - a week after the Department of Health and Social Care revised its guidance on care homes on April 15th.
Data on deaths linked to Covid-19 in care homes started being reported by the Office of National Statistics on April 7th
The Department of Health and Social Care have been approached for comment.