The government was unlawful in failing to protect more than 20,000 older or disabled care home residents from Covid-19, according to a new High Court ruling.

The ruling came after Dr Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris took former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Public Health England to court after both their fathers died in care homes in 2020.

In their judgment, Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Garnham found that the decisions of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to make and maintain a series of policies contained in documents issued in March and April 2020 were unlawful because they failed to take into account the risk to "elderly and vulnerable residents from non-symptomatic transmission".

Non-symptomatic transmission would mean that one patient moved from hospital to a care home could infect other residents before manifesting symptoms, or even without ever manifesting symptoms.

The judges found that it was irrational for the department not to have advised until mid-April 2020 that where an asymptomatic patient (other than one who had tested negative for Covid-19) was admitted to a care home, he or she should, so far as practicable, be kept apart from other residents for 14 days.

Dr Gardner, whose father died at the age of 88 in a care home in Bicester, Oxfordshire, in April 2020, said in a statement after the ruling: "My father, along with tens of thousands of other elderly and vulnerable people, tragically died in care homes in the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I believed all along that my father and other residents of care homes were neglected and let down by the government." 

Callous disregard for care home residents and workers

In its judgment the High Court described the case as “an important and legitimate claim”. The judges said that they were not conducting an inquest concerning the deaths of Mr Gibson and Mr Harris alone. The Claimants’ fathers were put forward as representative of many other residents of care homes who died during the first wave of the pandemic. On the other hand, the case was not a public inquiry but a judicial review.

GMB, the union for care workers, said that the High Court ruling's was a terrible reminder of callous disregard the government has shown for care home residents and workers.

Rachel Harrison, GMB National Officer for care, said: "Transferring untested hospital outpatients into enclosed facilities where carers were denied access to proper PPE and even sick pay was always going to have tragic consequences

"GMB members nursed much loved residents as they died from this awful virus, while all the while worrying about their own safety and how they were going to pay the bills.

“If any good is to come out of this pandemic then it must include urgent reform of the sector. Ministers and employers need to explain how they are going to care for the people who have cared for us."