Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.
One of the main themes of any public inquiry into the Coronavirus crisis will be the dynamic between the politicians and their scientific and medical advisers. Another will be to what degree health ministers are involved in the guidance and direction given by NHS England and Public Health England.
Convention dictates that the buck stops with the Secretary of State for whatever happens within the different quangos and agencies under his or her department’s remit – however unfair that might look.
This week, we learned that in March and at the beginning of April hundreds of patients, or maybe even thousands, were transferred from hospitals into care homes without being tested to ascertain whether they were Coronavirus-free.
This, on the face of it, was pure madness. However, Robert Buckland said on Sky News on Wednesday that there was a choice to be paid – prioritise hospitals or social care. The hospitals needed the beds, so a directive was issued to clear as many elderly people as possible out of hospitals and put them into care homes.
The guidance on how to do this was issued to hospitals and care homes were told to comply – or else. This guidance was posted on the internal NHS England website, I believe, and was only withdrawn once a row blew up in mid-April.
Radio 4’s File on Four documentary this week made for some horrifying listening, but as well as answer some questions, it also posed many others. I had wrongly assumed that decisions to push out non-tested patients into care homes were made by middle ranking NHS managers, but that was not the case. It was deliberate policy.
On the programme, Jane Deith quoted an April 2 directive from government urging a national initiative to empty hospital beds and put people who may or may not have been infected with coronavirus back into care homes. It is also alleged that threats about funding were made to care homes who expressed doubt about accepting such patients.
Politico’s London Playbook quotes Susan Mckinney, who runs 14 care homes across the north-east. She maintains that she was given little choice but to comply.
“We had an incident on April 10 where twice we rang the hospital saying “we can’t accept this person back, we need them tested, we need a negative test so we know what we’re dealing with,’” she said.
“They turned up at the door in an ambulance and refused to go away. There was a sort of stand-off at the door of the home. The family members turned up, the paramedics had the poor resident on a stretcher at the door and would not go away until we allowed them in. And all we got was ‘you’re not following the guidelines’…We were threatened with the police if we did not let this person in.”
Quite astonishing. It’s one thing to have a policy of clearing out hospital beds, and you can understand why this was required. It’s quite another to then just dump these people in random care homes with no notice and no time to prepare.
Had it been said to care homes, with a bit of notice, that they needed to provide x number of rooms that could be isolated from the rest of the homes in question, they could have planned accordingly. But they didn’t.
So for the Health Secretary to say, as he did, that care homes were wrapped in a bubble of care right from the beginning of the crisis – well, it has a hollow ring to it, doesn’t it?
So were these patients moved from hospitals to care homes following a recommendation from the scientists and medical advisers? Was it a decision that ministers even knew about? Should they have? Did anyone actually think about the risks involved?
These are not questions which can or even should be answered now. But when they are answered, we’re going to learn an awful lot about how decisions are made not just at the heart of government, but in arms length quangos. And I suspect we’re not going to like what we discover.
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The sheen came off Keir Starmer at this week’s PMQs, as he struggled to pin Boris Johnson to the wall.
Less forensic, more robot. He seemed to lack a certain fleetness of foot, something which also bedevilled his predecessor, whose name momentarily escapes me.
To be successful at PMQs. you have to be able to think on your feet and react to whatever answer your opposite number gives. If you just plough on with your pre-prepared six questions, you run the risk that you ask a question which has already been answered, and that is what happened to Starmer on Wednesday.
Having bested Johnson on their two previous encounters, and won rave reviews from commentators of all hues, it was down to earth with a bump for the Labour leader this week.