Ministers and experts failed to recognise care home risk factors – England’s chief medical officer

Ministers and experts failed to recognise that care home residents were at risk from workers moving between homes and spreading Covid-19, England’s chief medical officer has acknowledged.

Professor Chris Whitty (pictured) told MPs on the Commons Health and Social Care Committee that in retrospect some risk factors were obvious but had not been recognised earlier on in the pandemic.

These included workers moving between homes and some staff not being paid sick leave, which meant they came into work while ill.

Asked to comment on Boris Johnson’s claim that care homes had not followed procedures, he said there was no such thing as the “perfect advice” being given to care homes.

The Government has been heavily criticised over its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic relating to care homes, including that patients with the virus were discharged from hospitals to homes.

Asked to take a view on the Prime Minister’s comments that “too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures”, Prof Whitty said: “Well I say first of all, my enthusiasm for blaming people for anything is zero.

“That is absolutely not the way we deal with any kind of situation in health and social care and that’s across the board.

“I think it’s clear that every country that has a care sector has not handled this well.

“The UK is one country that has not handled this well in terms of issues in social care but the same is true, as previous speakers have said, the numbers are very similar or even higher in terms of proportions of deaths in almost every country where you look at this.

“So this is across the board, this has been a major problem.

“Some of this I think comes from the fact that we had not recognised – what are in retrospect obvious – but were not obvious points early on.

“For example, the fact that people working in multiple homes, people who were not paid sick leave, that is a clear risk… that these were major risks in health and social care settings.

“So I think there are a lot of things that we have learned that we will, we can now do a lot better in social care, and I don’t think any of us would look back on what has happened in social care and say the ideal advice was given and this is the fault of anyone.

“I personally would shy away from that.”

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said there had been a change around protecting care home residents “and it is that knowledge, some of which was missing I think when we first started”.

She said one area of increased knowledge was that people could be asymptomatic or have “very non-specific illness”.

Newer measures included testing programmes in care homes, infection control programmes and swift action for local outbreaks, she added.

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