The Lockdown Files Team
Wed, 1 March 2023 at 5:00 pm GMT
Care homes refused to test staff for Covid at the height of the pandemic in case they discovered they were positive, The Telegraph can disclose.
Nearly 100 care homes offered tests said they did not want them, according to WhatsApp messages sent between Helen Whately, the social care minister, and Matt Hancock, the then health secretary.
They include 10 care homes in the north of England where, according to the messages, the local director of public health was “worried testing will reveal too many asymptomatic staff”.
Ms Whately shared the information with Mr Hancock at the start of June 2020, by which point there had already been more than 6,400 outbreaks in care homes, according to official Public Health England data.
The Government had set a June 6 deadline to make tests available to everyone in homes for the elderly, and Ms Whately was updating Mr Hancock on the progress they had made.
“Tests delivered to over 8,000 care homes. The challenge is 642 who have yet to register. Outbound calling has identified 178 not in operation, 346 saying ‘already tested … and 98 do not want a test’,” she said.
She added that they needed to “get the recalcitrant ones that are in operation tested!”
“Yes absolutely – esp the 98,” Mr Hancock replied.
Ms Whately responded with a tick emoji, and told him “esp the 10” care homes in the north of England “where the dph [director of public health] is worried testing will reveal too many asymptomatic staff”.
She ended her sentence with an angry face emoji, before adding that officials were “very much on the case”.
At the time of the exchange, care homes across England were struggling with staffing shortages exacerbated by the pandemic.
Large numbers of workers were absent at any one time, because those who had Covid symptoms were required to isolate for seven days, while those who shared a home with someone with symptoms had to isolate for two weeks.
Seven months after this episode, it emerged that 40 care homes in England had continued using Covid-positive staff regardless.
On Jan 29 2021, Ms Whately told Mr Hancock there was “bad news”. Referring to the care homes watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, she said: “CQC has now identified 40 Care homes who have been using covid positive staff. I am finding out what they are doing to make sure all such situations are identified, what action they are taking in these cases and what more is going to be done to stop this.”
Mr Hancock responded: “Wow. Well done for spotting this.”
The conversation between the social care minister and the health secretary came two days after the CQC, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Association of Directors of Public Health issued a joint warning to care homes that “under no circumstances” should staff who have tested positive for Covid-19 “work in a care setting until the legally required period of self-isolation has ended”.