Matt Hancock was unaware care providers had offered the use of their new facilities to isolate discharged patients who potentially had Covid-19.
During an evidence session to a joint select committee inquiry into lessons learnt during coronavirus, the health and social care secretary was told at the start of the pandemic ‘several’ providers had offered the use of ‘brand new’ facilities that had not yet been commissioned.
Labour MP Barbara Keeley said the providers had not received any response from the government about the offer and that the sector had not being listened to in the early stages of the pandemic.
She asked Hancock why he did not ‘heed the warnings about dangers’ of discharging people from hospitals directly to care homes. The new facilities could have been used as an interim step for patients while Covid-19 tests were being carried out. This would have helped better protect care homes, Keeley said.
Hancock told the science and technology and health and social care committees he was ‘not aware’ of the offer, later adding: ‘I don’t have a recollection of that correspondence.’
During the four-hour session, he told the joint committee there was a lack of social care data as well as a full list of providers. He told MPs: ‘None of these lists are comprehensive and this is the problem we were facing…’
When asked by Conservative MP Greg Clark about trying to ‘throw a protective ring’ around care homes, Hancock replied: ‘I think the most important words in that sentence are was we tried to. It was very hard. And all of these deaths in care homes, each and every death in a care home, weighs heavily on me and always will…’
He said during the pandemic, social care had received funding, PPE, guidance, as well as weekly testing of staff, which was the ‘single biggest improvement’ in protecting residents. This was followed by putting residents and care home staff in the top priority group for vaccinations.
‘That’s what I meant but it was very hard for a number of reasons, some of which are fixed and some aren’t,’ he told the inquiry. ‘I am secretary of state for health and social care yet at the start of this pandemic the powers that I had over social care were extremely limited. The formal powers rest with local government. Formally, social care is a responsibility of local government…
‘We didn’t have the data. When I first asked for a list of all the elderly care homes, we didn’t have one, which I find totally extraordinary saying but it’s true. We simple didn’t have the levers and we had to invent a whole series of them. We now have far better data but some of these problems still need to be fixed. We still need to reform social care…
‘There’s a whole series of things that have been improved and then there’s a whole series of things we still need to do.’
Responding to the evidence session, Independent Care Group chair Mike Pagdham said: ‘It beggars belief to hear that the secretary of state for health AND social care, could not get hold of a list of care homes at the start of the pandemic and for him to admit that his department’s power over the sector was limited.
‘Mr Hancock today admitted the government was “trying” to throw a protective ring around our care homes. If that is the case, then it failed.’