Government's 'unlawful' discharge policy led to 'avoidable' deaths, says Durham care home owner

A care home owner from County Durham has told ITV News Tyne Tees that deaths at one of is homes during the Covid pandemic "could have been avoided" had the government protected the care sector better.

Justin Russi, director of Hawthorns Lodge, said nine of his residents passed away during the first wave of the pandemic in March 2020, following untested hospital patients being discharged into his care home.

Today the High Court ruled government policies on discharging untested patients from hospital into care homes at the onset of the Covid pandemic were "unlawful".

The government had failed to take into account the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents from non-symptomatic transmission of coronavirus, High Court judges have ruled.

"They did attempt to empty hospital beds," Mr Russi said. "There were not checks done for these people and obviously these people were infected with Covid and they came into care and into a care home and therefore, spread covid, which went a long way towards causing the deaths that we saw.

"And we suffered a number of deaths, up to about nine in this particular home and that could have been avoided."

Mr Russi's care home in County Durham

The former Health Secretary, Matt Hancock MP, said at the height of the first wave that "right from the start we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes."

However, today's ruling has vindicated care home owners like Lucy Craig.

The owner of Craig Healthcare's West Farm Care Home in Newcastle, said she refused to allow hospital patients be discharged into her home, because she knew how infectious Covid was.

She said: "Even if I’d had the capacity to do it, there’s no way on this planet that I was going to allow somebody to come into the home if id known they’d tested positive and therefore spread it through the rest of the home. Morally in every single way, it’s absolutely incorrect."

Lucy Craig of West Farm Care Home

She pointed out that there were other options and tools at the government's disposal, which were not taken up.

She added: "First of all we had the Nightingale hospitals, which the government set up at huge expense. They had options from me for infection control units. It was something that we could have been incredibly responsive to and we could have isolated those situations and therefore not brought them into general care homes where there were people living who hadn’t contracted Covid."

A spokesman for Mr Hancock said the High Court had found he acted reasonably but Public Health England “failed to tell ministers what they knew about asymptomatic transmission” of Covid-19 and “Mr Hancock has frequently stated how he wished this had been brought to his attention earlier”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street. Credit: PA

Responding to the ruling in the House of Commons on Wednesday, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said he wanted to renew his apologies, and sympathy, to people who lost loved ones in care homes during the pandemic.