UKHSA boss Jenny Harries argued it was ‘entirely appropriate’ to discharge Covid-infected patients into care homes at start of pandemic – but admits wording of email was ‘awful’ and insists it wasn’t her wish

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Discharging Covid-infected NHS patients into care homes was ‘entirely clinically appropriate’, one of the Government’s most prominent scientific advisers argued during the earliest days of the pandemic. 

Days ahead of the original March 2020 lockdown, Dame Jenny Harries wrote in an email that Brits carrying the virus would need to be sent to care homes if hospitals became overwhelmed. 

Dame Jenny, now head of the UK Health Security Agency, claimed the NHS would determine who still needs to be under its care.

Grilled by the Covid inquiry today, she admitted that her email ‘sounds awful’. But Dame Jenny insisted her advice was only meant to apply if there was an ‘enormous explosion of cases’ and wasn’t ‘an invitation to be discharging Covid patients’.

Thousands of care home residents are feared to have died after a disastrous policy to discharge potentially infectious hospital patients without prior testing.

Professor Dame Jenny Harries (pictured), England's former deputy chief medical officer, wrote in a March 2020 email that Brits carrying the virus would need to be discharged into care homes if hospitals became overwhelmed

Professor Dame Jenny Harries (pictured), England’s former deputy chief medical officer, wrote in a March 2020 email that Brits carrying the virus would need to be discharged into care homes if hospitals became overwhelmed

Dame Jenny told the inquiry that she sent an email on March 16, 2020, which described the 'bleak picture' and 'top line awful prospect' of what needed to happen if hospitals overflowed

Dame Jenny told the inquiry that she sent an email on March 16, 2020, which described the ‘bleak picture’ and ‘top line awful prospect’ of what needed to happen if hospitals overflowed

Dame Jenny told the inquiry that she sent an email on March 16, 2020, which described the ‘bleak picture’ and ‘top line awful prospect’ of what needed to happen if hospitals overflowed.

Her email exchange with Rosamond Roughton, an official at the Department of Health, was shown to the inquiry.

Ms Roughton had asked what the approach should be around discharging symptomatic people to care homes, adding: ‘My working assumption was that we would have to allow discharge to happen, and have very strict infection control? Otherwise the NHS presumably gets clogged up with people who aren’t acutely ill.’

Ms Roughton added that this was a ‘big ethical issue’ for care home providers who were ‘understandably very concerned’ and who were ‘already getting questions from family members’.

In response, Dame Jenny emailed: ‘Whilst the prospect is perhaps what none of us would wish to plan for, I believe the reality will be that we will need to discharge Covid-19 positive patients into residential care settings for the reason you have noted.

‘This will be entirely clinically appropriate because the NHS will triage those to retain in acute settings who can benefit from that sector’s care.

‘The numbers of people with disease will rise sharply within a fairly short timeframe and I suspect make this fairly normal practice and more acceptable, but I do recognise that families and care homes will not welcome this in the initial phase.’

Questioned about this email, Dame Jenny told the Covid inquiry it ‘sounds awful’ but was intended to provide ‘a very, very high level view’ of what would happen if there was an ‘enormous explosion of cases’.

She said: ‘It was a very bleak picture because I think the reality was, this isn’t an invitation to be discharging Covid patients, it’s actually a reality that says if hospitals overflow … those who are physically well to go, will go.’

Dame Jenny later added it was a ‘high-level view of what was coming over the hill’ and should not be read as her saying that such a move was ‘fine’.

She said: ‘My message on the 16th … this was a look ahead and think, “this is what will happen in due course”, it doesn’t give a timeframe.

‘You should not take my email as to say, “the NHS is suddenly going to discharge lots of Covid-positive patients and that’s absolutely fine”.

‘What it was doing was painting a picture to the person who was contributing to policy on the official side at the Department of Health.’

She added: ‘I’m really keen to emphasise my email was a high-level view so people were aware of what was kind of coming over the hill, but the hill was still a little way away.’

Inquiry counsel Andrew O’Connor then suggested there was ‘some degree of equanimity about discharging large numbers of Covid patients into that very vulnerable environment’.

Dame Jenny replied, ‘if I may, I think that’s an interpretation’, adding: ‘This was a very high-level picture to reinforce, if you like, the position that the country was in at that weekend, and I think we’ve heard that in other places.

‘If people were not thinking through what the likelihood was in the rising numbers of cases, as we’ve heard, I don’t think we have sensible conversations about managing risks.

‘This is not a policy at all. This is a statement of, “if you have a pandemic in a country, how on earth are you going to manage that exponential rise in cases?”‘

The inquiry later heard that Dame Jenny doesn’t believe that face masks slowed the spread of Covid.

She wrote in her witness statement to the inquiry that the evidence base for using face masks in the community ‘was, and still is to some degree, uncertain’. 

Dame Jenny warned that mask-wearing may have even had the opposite effect — encouraging people to mix more closely while wearing masks.

‘There was a risk that in encouraging face (masks) people would stop doing the thing that was really important, which was distancing and all the other things,’ she added.

A crisis in testing and PPE turned care homes into ‘warzones’ in late March 2020, as the nation was plunged into lockdown.

Weeks later Mr Hancock was ridiculed for saying the Government had ‘tried to put a protective ring around our care homes’ from the start of the pandemic despite the policy of discharging hospital patients to them. 

It is feared this triggered killer outbreaks that led to up to 20,000 deaths.

In his pandemic diaries, Mr Hancock admitted that transferring them without testing first was an ‘utter nightmare’, but said that at the time officials did not have enough testing capacity to do so anyway.



Post source: Daily mail

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