Covid Inquiry: Discharging patients into care homes would be 'appropriate', warned top medic

The Covid inquiry has heard why health officials thought it was necessary to discharge hospital patients with the virus into care homes, ITV News' Romilly Weeks reports

Discharging positive Covid patients into care homes would be "entirely clinically appropriate" while not welcomed by families, a top medic warned the government in early March 2020.

In an email to the Department of Health seen by the Covid-19 Inquiry, Professor Dame Jenny Harries advised officials that it would need to become "reality" if cases grew exponentially.

Meanwhile, the former Health Secretary Sajid Javid described the "entirely dysfunctional" nature of Number 10 under Boris Johnson, while Dominic Raab dismissed the accusation.

The revelations came during a crucial week of evidence at the Covid-19 Inquiry, with the heavily scrutinised Matt Hancock due to appear on Thursday.

'This is a high level view' of a 'very bleak picture', says Professor Dame Jenny Harries

Releasing people into care homes – where thousands of people died of the virus – has been one of the chief controversies of how the government handled the pandemic.

In some cases, as first reported by ITV News, they were given just days to prepare for an influx of Covid-positive hospital patients, despite a government promise to put a "protective ring" around the sector.

In an email to Department of Health Officials on March 16 2020, seen by the Inquiry, Prof Dame Jenny said: "Whilst the prospect is perhaps what none of us would wish to plan for, I believe the reality will be that we will need to discharge Covid-19 positive patients into residential care settings for the reason you have noted. “This will be entirely clinically appropriate because the NHS will triage those to retain in acute settings who can benefit from that sector’s care. “The numbers of people with disease will rise sharply within a fairly short timeframe and I suspect make this fairly normal practice and more acceptable, but I do recognise that families and care homes will not welcome this in the initial phase.”

When questioned about it on Wednesday, the former deputy chief medical officer admitted it "sounds awful" but insisted it was "a very, very high level view" of what would happen if there was an "enormous explosion of cases", rather than an admission that the move was "fine".

"You should not take my email as to say 'the NHS is suddenly going to discharge lots of Covid-positive patients and that's absolutely fine'", the now chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency said.

" What it was doing was painting a picture to the person who was contributing to policy on the official side at the Department of Health.” She added: “I’m really keen to emphasise my email was a high-level view so people were aware of what was kind of coming over the hill, but the hill was still a little way away.”

'The extent of dysfunctionality was something I had not experienced before in any government', Sajid Javid tells the Inquiry

The former Health Secretary Sajid Javid also appeared before the Inquiry and described the "dysfunctional" environment in Downing Street under Boris Johnson's leadership.

Mr Javid, who resigned as Chancellor in February 2020, told the Inquiry he felt Mr Johnson was "not in charge" and his chief adviser Dominic Cummings was "running the government".

In his witness statement Mr Javid said he resigned because of Mr Cummings, who "sought to act as the prime minister in all but name" and "tried to make all key decisions within No 10".

Mr Javid returned as health secretary in June 2021, shortly after which Mr Johnson allegedly said he wanted all "malingering work-shy people" to get back to work, the Inquiry also heard.

Extracts from Professor Sir Patrick Vallance's diaries, shown to Mr Javid, revealed the then prime minister getting increasingly frustrated with Covid restrictions, in July 2021.

A diary entry dated July 2 said: “PM meeting – cases up, hospital admissions up. PM looks downbeat and talks of grim predictions. “Saj (Javid) says ‘we are going to have to learn to live with it’, ‘and die with it’, PM says." Mr Javid agreed there was a "broadly" toxic culture in Downing Street under Mr Johnson, which has been heard multiple times by other witnesses at the Inquiry.

'I don't accept the characterisation that there was some sort of puppet regime', Dominic Raab tells the Covid Inquiry

But Dominic Raab denied accusations that Mr Johnson's Number 10 was chaotic and "dysfunctional".

The former deputy prime minister, who stood in for Mr Johnson when he was hospitalised with covid, said: "There is a whole circus that can be built up in the media and elsewhere around the internal battles between individuals and some of that is natural and healthy."

He added Mr Cummings was “trying to galvanise direction of travel” in government which was “much needed” and said: "I just don't accept the characterisation that there was some sort of puppet regime".

Mr Raab also defended the government’s decision-making during the pandemic, saying it made “the best decisions” with the information available at the time.

The inquiry is currently taking evidence as part of its second module on core UK decision-making and political governance.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...