"THE government chose to ignore those dire warnings and the consequences were catastrophic."

These are the words of the CEO of the Wiltshire Care Partnership, after it was found the government had acted unlawfully in its Covid policies regarding care homes in the early part of the pandemic.

On April 27, the High Court ruled that the government had acted “unlawfully” in its policies on discharging patients into care homes.

READ MORE: Policies on discharging patients into care homes during Covid ruled unlawful

At the start of the pandemic, patients were rapidly discharged without being tested first, despite the likelihood of asymptomatic transmission.

Government documents show there was no requirement for testing until mid-April.

The High Court ruled that the government failed to consider the risk to vulnerable residents from asymptomatic transmission in the early months of the pandemic.

In Wiltshire, there were 260 Covid-related deaths in care homes between April 10 and December 31, 2020, according to government data.

'We knew what was happening was wrong'

Jo Howes, the Chief Executive Officer of Wiltshire Care Partnership (WCP), which supports independent care providers in the county, said that staff knew what was happening was "wrong".

She described it as a "spectacular government failure", but added that those working in care "pulled together against the odds".

Ms Howes said that during the early days of the pandemic, care home staff "knew very little" about how to manage the "new and frightening" virus, but they were trained in infection, prevention and control.

"In that sense [they] knew that what was happening, to discharge untested people into care homes where vulnerable people lived, was wrong," she said.

"The government was told this time and again by representatives of the care sector and chose to ignore those dire warnings and the consequences, as we all saw, were catastrophic."

Care home teams, with support from WCP colleagues in the local authority, NHS and Public Health, "did everything possible to make sure they were working in the most up to date way, using every bit of PPE available and following all the rules as they were set".

She explained: "We have pulled together against the odds. As time moved on our care staff became experts and have continued to deliver high quality care with compassion, skill and in safety. We need to continue to protect this."

The CEO added that every Covid-19 death was a tragedy, and many deaths in the early stages of the pandemic were "avoidable".

"However, every person who sadly passed away in a care home did so with dedicated caring staff next to them, and although our care staff were often frightened by what was happening, they held the hands of the dying and did all they could to ease their passing and make sure they were not alone.

"For this they are owed a debt of thanks."

Evidence was 'extremely uncertain'

Responding to the High Court ruling, a government spokesperson said that the regulations to protect care home residents were "based on the best information at the time", and the evidence on asymptomatic transmission was "extremely uncertain".

The government acted in the way it did to "protect the NHS" and "prevent it from being overwhelmed".

A government spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with all those who lost loved ones during the pandemic.

“Throughout the pandemic, our aim has been to protect the public from the threat to life and health posed by Covid-19 and we specifically sought to safeguard care home residents based on the best information at the time.

"This was a wide ranging claim and the vast majority of the judgement found in the government's favour.

"The court recognised this was a very difficult decision at the start of the pandemic, evidence on asymptomatic transmission was extremely uncertain and we had to act immediately to protect the NHS to prevent it from being overwhelmed.

“The court recognised we did all we could to increase testing capacity. We acknowledge the judge's comments on assessing the risks of asymptomatic transmission and our guidance on isolation and will respond in more detail in due course."

Speaking on behalf of Wiltshire Council, Cllr Jane Davies, cabinet member for adult social care, said that the council and its care home providers "followed all the relevant government guidance that was available throughout the pandemic".

John Glen, MP for Salisbury, was approached for comment but did not respond.

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