Woman whose father died launches court proceedings over Government handling of Covid-19

A woman whose 88-year-old father died in a care home is launching High Court proceedings over the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

A lawyer will lodge legal papers on behalf of Cathy Gardner, chair of East Devon District Council, on Friday, as part of moves seeking a judicial review over whether care home policies exposed residents to the risk of harm.

It comes as a group of some 500 relatives of people who died during the Covid-19 pandemic called for an immediate inquiry into the Government’s “life or death” decisions during the crisis.

Ms Gardner’s father, Michael Gibson, died in an Oxfordshire care home on April 3 after it accepted the return of a resident from hospital who previously had Covid-19 symptoms and had tested positive.

Mr Gibson, who had Alzheimer’s and was not tested for the virus, had a recorded cause of death as probable Covid-19.

His daughter’s legal action hinges on allegations that guidance issued to care homes during February and March saw the Government breach its legal duty to protect care home residents and workers.

She said she was left “appalled” by comments from Health Secretary Matt Hancock in May in which he said a “protective ring” had been placed around care homes during the crisis.

Ms Gardner (pictured) added: “The truth is that there has been, at best, a casual approach to protecting the residents of care homes; at worst, the Government have adopted a policy that has caused the death of the most vulnerable in our society.

“It is completely unacceptable that this happened and that responsibility has been avoided.”

A letter sent to Mr Hancock earlier this month by her lawyer, Paul Conrathe of Sinclairslaw, said Ms Gardner believed policies adopted by the Mr Hancock, NHS England and Public Health England had “manifestly failed to protect the health, wellbeing and right to life of those residing and working in care homes”.

It claimed: “Their failings have led to large numbers of unnecessary deaths and serious illnesses.

“In addition, the failings of Government have been aggravated by the making of wholly disingenuous, misleading and – in some cases – plainly false statements suggesting that everything necessary has been done to protect care homes during the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, a lawyer representing the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK group said an immediate interim inquiry was needed into the Government’s current and future health policies to protect lives if there is a second peak of the virus.

Elkan Abrahamson, from the law firm Broudie Jackson Canter, told the PA news agency that scrutinising policy was about “life or death decisions”.

He suggested an inquiry could be led by a High Court judge, supported by expert assessors, to examine issues such as returning children to school, personal protective equipment (PPE) provision and care home policy.

He argued that the Government was “not being specific” in its approach and needed to “win back public confidence”.

“You lose the public confidence and you lose compliance with guidance, that’s the real problem,” Mr Abramhamson said.

He added: “What’s going to happen when the next spike comes, which it will? What are they going to do about lockdown? What are they going to do about PPE? What are they going to do about protecting care homes?

“All these things have not really been properly explained by the Government.”

Mr Abrahamson said: “People are dying now and people will be dying during the next spike, perhaps needlessly.”

The lawyer said families had told him that “my loved one life could have been saved”, and they had criticised the delay in introducing lockdown and the shortages of PPE.

Matt Fowler, the founder of the group of families, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday: “I absolutely believe that my dad’s death could have been prevented if things were handled in a different manner.

“He was only 56, so he has gone way, way before his time.”

Asked whether different Government decisions could have saved the life of his father, Mr Fowler said: “Absolutely.”

He said legal action was justified to try to force an immediate probe, stating: “If my actions can save one life, it may seem inconsequential to the people at large, but that person’s family, that person can be their entire world.”

A Government spokesman said he could not comment on possible legal action over its care homes policy.

Responding to calls for an inquiry, the spokesman said: “At some point in the future there will be an opportunity for us to look back, to reflect and to learn some profound lessons.

“But at the moment, the most important thing to do is to focus on responding to the current situation.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) East Devon Alliance.