Matt Hancock challenged ‘Act now over social care or step aside’

MATT Hancock should “step aside” if he’s not serious about social care reform in the wake of the Covid crisis, a leading North Yorkshire campaigner has demanded.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock.

The call came from Scarborough care home owner Mike Padgham after renewing his claim – in the aftermath of the damning evidence given by Boris Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings to Parliament last week – that the sector was “forgotten” by Ministers in the pandemic’s early stages.

Mr Padgham has also confirmed to this newspaper that he never received an acknowledgement – or response – to a letter that he sent to Mr Hancock on April 18 last year warning that hospitals were discharging Covid-infect patients into care homes.

The Government is accused of neglecting social care.

“Care and nursing homes have been taking people in through their doors whether they have Covid-19 or not and have been ill-equipped to cope,” he wrote in the letter which The Yorkshire Post published at the time.

“Our care workers have been sent into battle against Covid-19 without the right gear, second in the queue behind the NHS, despite doing the same job.”

Last night a Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said that she would “ask” about the Minister’s discourteous non-response to Mr Padgham.

Mike Padgham (right) visits his 93-year-old mother Phyllis Padgham (centre) with Activities Assistant Charlotte Henderson (left) at St Cecilia's Nursing Home in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

It comes as pressure continues to grow on the Cabinet minister after Mr Cummings claimed that the Health Secretary lied by saying that all people moving from hospital to care homes would be tested for Covid-19 before doing so.

Mr Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group which represents providers in York and North Yorkshire, told Sky News that this had been a “frightening” time for staff and residents.

“We were forgotten. We’ve been forgotten over decades...we weren’t prepared. We weren’t ready. We didn’t have the PPE, we didn’t have the testing,” he said.

“And it took the Government many, many weeks to actually see what was happening in homes, despite our best efforts and protestations.”

There have been more than 36,275 deaths involving Covid-19 in care homes since the pandemic began and Mr Padgham also accused Ministers of ignoring the future funding and reform of social care despite Boris Johnson claiming, on the day he became Prime Minister in July 2019, that he had a “clear plan”.

This month’s Queen’s Speech signalled a desire by the Government to bring forward reforms, but the passage was limited to nine words. Ministers say they want to work on a cross-party basis but senior Labour figures say no discussions have taken place.

“I‘ve lost faith in all politicians really, because going through Labour, the coalition, now Conservatives, everyone’s promised something and it’s never happened,” he added. “Rather than people stepping down now and resigning, I want the Government to actually give us a date when they’re going to deliver social care, not move from it.

“If they don’t deliver this time, then they need to step aside and let someone else do it because we’ve run out of patience. It needs action today.”

Government documents show there was no requirement to test patients being discharged from hospital into a care home until April 15, 2020, as efforts were made to free up beds on wards for Covid-19 patients, despite Mr Hancock appearing to have suggested otherwise.

However Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi defended his colleague’s approach, saying Mr Hancock and other ministers had made the best use of the limited testing capacity available when the pandemic struck and that they had put a “protective ring” around care homes.

Asked why people were sent into care homes without tests, Mr Zahawi told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that “hindsight is a wonderful thing” and “we can sit here and sort of argue the toss about asymptomatic transmission … and when we really knew about that.”

He said this issue would be a matter for the Covid public inquiry which will “examine where we could do better”. The Minister added: “To say that we didn’t deal with them (care homes) to the best of our capability, with the resources that were available to us, is a mistake, is wrong.”

Today a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson issued this response to Mr Padgham: “Protecting people in adult social care has been a top priority throughout the pandemic and the social care sector has done a great job of caring for those most at risk during this incredibly challenging time.

“To support the sector through Covid-19 we have provided billions of pounds to support adult social care, including on infection and prevention control measures, free PPE, priority vaccinations and additional testing.”

They gave no indication when – or if – he can expect a reply to his April 2020 letter from Mr Hancock.

Don’t delay virus inquiry

A Former head of the civil service has backed calls for the Covid public inquiry to be brought forward to this year.

Bob Kerslake said that a launch in 2022 risked a period of “tit-for-tat” testimony in the wake of claims made by Boris Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings.

Lord Kerslake, a former Sheffield City Council chief executive, also advocated “a revolution” in how the country is run – and that civil servants should not be afraid of reform.

He said there needed to be better “long term planning” and co-ordination across Whitehall following a “paucity of learning” prior to the delayed imposition of the second lockdown last year.

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