Government experts 'warned in early April of care home staff coronavirus risk'

Government experts ‘warned in early April of coronavirus risk posed by care home staff working in more than one location but restrictions were not recommended until five weeks later’

  • April 9 meeting raised the issue of ‘staff working between different care homes’
  • But updated guidance to staff to work at one location not published until May 15
  • Fears asymptomatic care home staff were unwittingly spreading coronavirus 

Government experts warned in early April of the coronavirus risk posed by care home staff working in more than one location but guidance restricting them to one facility was not issued until more than a month later. 

There are fears asymptomatic staff were unknowingly spreading the disease to the most vulnerable by working at different locations. 

Advisers had raised the issue at a meeting on April 9 but it was not recommended until May 15 that staff should only work at one care home. 

The revelations are likely to prompt further scrutiny of the Government’s and Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s approach to protecting the elderly during the outbreak. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock's Department of Health and Social Care did not recommend care home staff should work in only one location until May 15. He is pictured in Downing Street on July 1

Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care did not recommend care home staff should work in only one location until May 15. He is pictured in Downing Street on July 1

Rishi Sunak handed poll boost over handling of coronavirus crisis

Rishi Sunak’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis has seen his personal poll ratings surge ahead of every member of the Government – including Boris Johnson.

The findings, in an exclusive poll for today’s Mail on Sunday, come ahead of a major speech by the Chancellor on Wednesday in which he will set out his plan for Britain’s post-Covid economic recovery.

His ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ package follows last week’s ‘build, build, build’ speech from the Prime Minister promising billions of pounds for major developments.

Mr Sunak’s composed performances in the Commons and at the special Covid press conferences, as he set out his emergency packages of economic support, have earned him an approval rating in the Deltapoll survey of plus 41, compared with plus eight for Health Secretary Matt Hancock and just plus two for Mr Johnson.

The boost which Mr Sunak gives to the Government’s ratings are also clear from the fact that while Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer beats Mr Johnson by 12 points in rankings of leadership ability, when voters are asked who they prefer – Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak versus Sir Keir and his Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds, the Tory pair, on 48, prevail over the Labour duo’s 31. 

Official statistics show more than 19,000 residents died with coronavirus in care homes across England and Wales between March 2 and June 12.

It is thought one of the reasons why infection may have spread early on during the outbreak is because of asymptomatic staff who were unaware they had the virus but were not identified because they were not being tested.

Staff with symptoms of coronavirus may well have self-isolated but they may have been replaced by asymptomatic ‘bank’ employees who worked at more than one location. 

The minutes of an April 9 meeting of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) show experts talked about the issue of ‘staff working between different care homes’. 

They also warned of the ‘apparent lack of success’ in stopping infections in such settings, according to The Sunday Telegraph. 

This was despite an expectation within the Government that shielding measures should have made care home residents the ‘last to be infected’.

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van Tam, who attended the meeting was apparently tasked with relaying the Nervtag concerns to the Department of Health and Social Care.   

A meeting which took place just over a week later concluded that ‘consideration still needs to be given on interhome transmission driven by staff moving between homes’. 

Government guidance published on April 16 did not mention staff movement. 

It was not until May 15 that the Government advised that ‘subject to maintaining safe staffing levels, providers should employ staff to work at a single location’. 

The findings are likely to prompt questions over why a ban on staff travelling between more than one care home was not imposed sooner.

Meanwhile, experts had apparently suggested that elderly hospital patients could be quarantined in Nightingale-style facilities before being discharged back to care homes.

However, the idea was never taken up by ministers. The decision to discharge elderly patients straight to care homes has been blamed as one of the main reasons for a surge in infections in care settings. 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman insisted all decisions had been ‘informed by the latest evidence available at the time’. 

‘It is our priority to protect care home staff and residents throughout this pandemic,’ they said.  

‘Our guidance has always been informed by the latest evidence available at the time, and is regularly updated.

‘On May 15, we published our care home support package which followed the latest evidence from PHE and recommended a range of measures care homes could take to limit the spread of the virus. This included limiting the movement of staff.’  

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