Many thousands of care home residents died needlessly in the pandemic, a damning probe from MPs concludes today.
The first major inquiry into the Covid crisis says tragic losses in care homes were among the highest in Europe – and could have been prevented. Instead, the elderly were an ‘afterthought’.
The devastating finding is among a catalogue of failings detailed in a joint report from the health and science committees of the House of Commons.
The MPs say ministers were blinded by ‘groupthink’ among scientific advisers, who wrongly wanted to manage the spread of the virus, rather than suppress it.
They also castigate the ‘chaotic’ performance of the £37billion test and trace system.
Early decisions on lockdowns and social distancing rank as ‘one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced’.
The report blasts ‘light touch’ border controls when it was clear cases were coming from abroad.
The first major inquiry into the Covid crisis has concluded that many thousands of care home residents died needlessly in the pandemic. Pictured: Mike Carr and Katie Ffolloitt-Powell of the Patient Transport Services of South Central Ambulance Services help to settle an elderly non-COVID-19 patient into a care home after moving her from hospital, near Portsmouth
The report is likely to anger families who lost loved ones and increase the pressure for the independent judge-led inquiry to begin as soon as possible. Other devastating findings include:
- The UK’s response was too ‘narrowly and inflexibly based on a flu model’ that failed to learn lessons from Sars, Mers and Ebola;
- This was a ‘serious early error’ when other countries were taking drastic action;
- The lack of a proper test and trace system early on meant a full lockdown was ‘inevitable’ and should have come sooner;
- Decision-making was dysfunctional with the exchange of important information between public bodies ‘inadequate’;
- Death rates among black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and those with learning disabilities were unacceptably high.
Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark, the Tory MPs who chair the two committees, said that while the vaccine drive had been ‘boldly planned and effectively executed’ there were also ‘big mistakes’.
One was that hospitals discharged patients into care homes without testing them for the virus because officials were focused on ‘protecting the NHS’.
The report describes Covid-19 as a ‘scourge of the elderly’ and says over-80s were 70 times more likely to die than those aged under 40. Yet in the first month of lockdown around 25,000 patients were discharged into care homes without being checked for Covid.
This had the devastating impact of ‘seeding’ the disease among the vulnerable. Almost one in four people who died from Covid-19 lived in a care home, with 41,675 residents succumbing to the virus up until this May.
The report notes: ‘The UK was not alone in suffering significant loss of life in care homes, but the tragic scale of loss was among the worst in Europe and could have been mitigated.’
This rapid discharge of people from hospitals into care homes ‘led to many thousands of deaths which could have been avoided’.
The inquiry also says Covid-19 exposed decades of underfunding and neglect of the entire social care system.
Extending to 151 pages, the report draws on evidence from former health secretary Matt Hancock, chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty.
The report also found that the UK’s response was too ‘narrowly and inflexibly based on a flu model’ that failed to learn lessons from Sars, Mers and Ebola. Pictured: NHS workers in PPE take a patient at St Thomas’ Hospital on April 10, 2020 in London
The damning findings of the report also show the UK’s response was also ‘severely hampered’ by the ‘slow, uncertain, and often chaotic performance’ of the test, trace and isolate system. Pictured: warnings in Westminster in January of this year
Ruthie Henshall’s fight to hold her mother’s hand
Ruthie Henshall visits her mother Gloria in her care home
West End star Ruthie Henshall campaigned for better care home visiting rights during the pandemic as she watched her mother’s health deteriorate.
Miss Henshall, 54, said her mother Gloria, who lived in a home in Suffolk before her death in May aged 88, had been ‘starved of human affection’ by cruel visiting limits.
She told how her family were ‘angry and devastated’ by restrictions placed on visits.
In March, when guidelines allowed residents one ‘named visitor’, Miss Henshall was able to be in the same room as her mother and hold her hand for the first time in a year.
‘It will remain one of the most beautiful days of my life,’ she said.
‘Because I had fought so hard for that moment and it meant so much, it was incredibly moving.’
Miss Henshall added some home providers abused residents’ human rights to ‘meaningful contact’ with loved ones because the guidance to allow a named visitor was not law.
It makes 38 recommendations. The delay in imposing the first lockdown stemmed from flawed advice from scientific advisers, the report finds. Ministers felt ‘unable to challenge’ members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies even as it became clear a catastrophe was unfolding.
The UK’s response was also ‘severely hampered’ by the ‘slow, uncertain, and often chaotic performance’ of the test, trace and isolate system.
This was partly because NHS Test and Trace was established only when daily infections had risen to 2,000, with the result that it ‘ultimately failed in its stated objective to prevent future lockdowns despite vast quantities of taxpayers’ money being directed to it’.
Test and Trace was set up in May last year with a budget of £22billion. Since then it has been allocated £15billion more – £37billion over two years.
MPs brand the decision to stop community testing in March 2020 a ‘serious mistake’ and a ‘seminal failure’ because it meant officials were no longer able to track the spread of the virus.
However, the report notes that the UK ‘outperformed’ other countries with the development and rollout of vaccines and trials of treatments.
Caroline Abrahams of the charity Age UK said: ‘Social care was something of an afterthought during the early terrifying months of Covid-19.
‘Tens of thousands died as a result, leaving their families wondering whether their loved ones could have been saved if we had been better prepared as a nation, and more savvy in government about the role and capability of this vital public service.’
Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association, criticised ministers for delays while the virus was ‘spiralling out of control’.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s health spokesman, described the errors as ‘monumental’, adding: ‘At every step ministers ignored warnings, responded with complacency and were too slow to act.’
Hannah Brady, of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, criticised the inquiry for failing to speak to them. She added: ‘The report it has produced is laughable – it is an attempt to ignore and gaslight bereaved families, who will see it as a slap in the face.
‘All this report has proved is that the judge-led independent inquiry must have families at its heart.’
A Government spokesman said: ‘Throughout the pandemic we have been guided by scientific and medical experts and we never shied away from taking quick and decisive action to save lives and protect our NHS, including introducing restrictions and lockdowns.
‘We are committed to learning lessons from the pandemic and have committed to holding a full public inquiry in spring.’
Over 150,000 UK people are believed to have died from coronavirus.
Report blasts ministers for failing to lockdown sooner after following flawed advice
By Eleanor Hayward for the Daily Mail
Ministers failed to challenge flawed advice from Government scientists which allowed Covid to rip through Britain, the damning inquiry concluded.
Today’s report said the UK’s failure to lock down early enough stemmed from ‘false groupthink’ among members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
In a devastating verdict, the report insisted the deadly delay in imposing the first national lockdown was ‘because of the official scientific advice the Government received, not in spite of it’.
It added that an ‘over-reliance on specific mathematical models’ – many of which were later proved to be wildly inaccurate – was a key factor in the UK’s disastrous response to Covid.
In the early days of the pandemic Boris Johnson consistently stuck to the mantra that his Government was ‘following the science’.
The inquiry found that Ministers failed to challenge flawed advice from Government scientists which allowed Covid to rip through Britain. Pictured: Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty (L) and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance (R) look on as Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson hold one of the daily press conferences to address the nation in March last year
However, the inquiry suggests much of this early advice from Sage was wrong – but ministers ‘felt it was difficult to challenge the views of their official scientific advisers’.
On March 12, 2020, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told a Government news conference it was not possible or desirable to stop everyone being infected.
And at a Sage meeting the next day – ten days before lockdown – members were ‘unanimous that measures seeking to completely suppress spread of Covid-19 will cause a second peak’.
The report said: ‘Modelling at the time suggested that to suppress the spread of Covid-19 too firmly would cause a resurgence when restrictions were lifted.’
It criticised a ‘degree of groupthink’ which meant that ‘during this period Government policy did not deviate from the scientific advice it received in any material respect’.
The report said that in the days leading up to the first lockdown ministers and advisers ‘experienced simultaneous epiphanies that the course the UK was following was wrong, possibly catastrophically so.’
Sage only recommended a full lockdown when a study led by Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, said an unmitigated epidemic could result in 510,000 UK deaths.
MPs said it was ‘astonishing’ this had taken so long when most other nations had already imposed stay-at-home orders.
The report also criticised Sage for promoting the idea it would be difficult to persuade Britons to stay at home, noting: ‘It transpired that the UK public were very compliant with the eventual lockdown measures.’
Both former chief aide to the PM, Dominic Cummings, and ex-health secretary Matt Hancock told the inquiry they felt unable to challenge a ‘scientific consensus’ as it became clear a catastrophe was unfolding.
Mr Hancock said: ‘I bitterly regret that I did not over-rule that scientific advice at the start.’ The report stressed: ‘Science proceeds through challenge and disputation…Yet ministers and other advisers reported that they felt it difficult to challenge the views of their official scientific advisers.
‘Those in Government have a duty to question and probe the assumptions behind any scientific advice given, particularly in a national emergency, but there is little evidence sufficient challenge took place.’
The MPs on the committee were also highly critical of the mathematical models produced by members of Sage. The inquiry said evidence suggests ‘mathematical modelling was playing too influential a role in UK scientific advice’ as the models came with significant limitations and often failed to take into account real-world observations.
The report noted: ‘Despite this, throughout the pandemic, detailed modelled projections have evidently had great influence on Government decisions.’
Since the pandemic began, members of Sage have been under fire for gloomy predictions which were later proved wrong.
Only last month, they published modelling suggesting there could be between up to 7,000 hospital admissions a day in mid-October. In reality, daily admissions are currently averaging just 736.
Other prominent members of Sage, including Professor Ferguson, also claimed that cases could reach 200,000 a day over summer when cases actually peaked at around 50,000.
Criticising the ‘groupthink’ among members of Sage, the report noted that all but one of the 87 members are from UK institutions.
It said: ‘For a virus that has affected every country in the world and which was experienced first by other countries, it is also right to consider whether our scientific advisory bodies are sufficiently international.’
Yesterday Sir Patrick defended his actions, telling BBC Radio 4: ‘Science informs – it doesn’t decide and it doesn’t lead the way.’
UK played leading role in saving lives
Britain led the world on vaccine development and medical research throughout the pandemic – saving millions of lives globally, the report concluded.
MPs said the jab vaccine programme was ‘one of the most stunning scientific achievements in history’ and that it ‘redeemed’ many of the UK’s other policy failings.
They praised the ‘boldly planned and effectively executed’ project that meant Britain was the first Western country to roll out a vaccine against Covid-19.
The report concluded that the vaccine programme was ‘one of the most stunning scientific achievements in history’ and that it ‘redeemed’ many of the UK’s other policy failings. Pictured: Professor Andrew Pollard receives the AZ vaccine in January
Putin’s spies ‘stole details of AstraZeneca vaccine’
Russian spies stole secret blueprints on the Oxford- AstraZeneca vaccine so President Putin could claim his country produced the world’s first Covid-19 jab, it is claimed.
They were said to have targeted early human trials and taken key documents – and possibly even a vial of the vaccine – which was then used to produce the Sputnik V jab, say security sources.
Experts noted startling similarities between the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Sputnik V, triggering an investigation by UK spy chiefs.
Security Minister Damian Hinds would only say it was a ‘fair assumption’ that foreign states, such as Russia, were seeking to obtain ‘sensitive information’ but biosecurity expert Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon said: ‘Attempting to steal western technology saves the Russians time and money. Enhanced security at labs is necessary.’
The theft took place after a wave of cyber-attacks on Oxford University in March 2020.
The first human tests by Oxford-AstraZeneca came in April. In May Russia claimed it had invented its own vaccine.
The report said it was a ‘masterstroke’ to bring in Dame Kate Bingham, a venture capitalist, as head of the newly-established Vaccine Taskforce in May 2020.
It said the Government quickly ‘identified that a vaccine would be the route out of the pandemic’ and invested heavily in development, providing £20million to fully fund clinical trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
The report praised an ‘aggressive’ approach that meant the UK had secured agreements for more than 300million vaccine doses by November last year.
It said the UK’s medical regulator adopted an ‘agile and innovative’ approach of constantly reviewing trial data so vaccines could be deployed as soon as possible.
This meant Britain was the first Western country to approve a vaccine and, on December 8 last year, 91-year-old Margaret Keenan, from Coventry, became the first person in the world to receive a Covid-19 jab outside of a clinical trial.
The report concluded: ‘The UK vaccination programme – from discovery of potential vaccines against Covid-19 to the vaccination of nearly 80 per cent of the adult population by 1 September 2021 – has been one of the most successful and effective initiatives in the history of UK science and public administration.
‘Millions of lives will ultimately be saved as a result of the global vaccine effort, in which the UK has played a leading part.
‘In the UK alone, the successful deployment of effective vaccines has allowed, as at September 2021, a resumption of much of normal life, with incalculable benefits to people’s lives.’
The MPs also praise the ‘decisive and courageous’ decision taken by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to extend the gap between doses to 12 weeks.
This allowed the 15million most vulnerable adults to receive their first dose by February 15.
The report also praised British scientists for ‘outperforming’ other countries in finding treatments for virus victims
The NHS mass vaccine rollout was hugely successful and outshone the efforts of almost all other nations, the report said.
It also praised British scientists for ‘outperforming’ other countries in finding treatments for virus victims.
In particular, the RECOVERY trial, led by Oxford University, identified dexamethasone as the first effective treatment for Covid-19 – saving millions of lives around the world.
Meanwhile an antibody treatment developed by AstraZeneca has shown its ability to both prevent and treat Covid-19.
The firm submitted a request to the US Food and Drug Administration last week for emergency use authorisation for AZD7442.
Data released yesterday by AstraZeneca showed it was effective in preventing severe disease in non-hospitalised patients with mild to moderate coronavirus, when compared with a placebo.
Most of the 903 people in the study were at high risk of progression to severe Covid-19.
Hugh Montgomery, professor of intensive care medicine at University College London, and lead researcher on the trial, said AZD7442 could play an important role in the pandemic.
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