The human rights watchdog for England and Wales has backed a grieving daughter’s court action against the health secretary, Matt Hancock, over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in care homes.
Robert Booth www.theguardian.com
Cathy Gardner, who lost her father, Michael Gibson, to Covid-19 in a care home that accepted hospital discharges, is seeking a judicial review of policies that she alleges “failed to take into account the vulnerability of care home residents and staff to infection and death, the inadequacy of testing and PPE availability”.
The government denies acting illegally over care homes in England, where more than 15,000 people have died with confirmed or suspected Covid-19.
But the Equalities and Human Rights Commission said the case “raises potentially important issues of public interest and concern as to the way in which the rights of care home residents have been and will be protected during the current coronavirus pandemic”.
Gardner is a member of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK group, which Boris Johnson this week declined to meet, having previously said he would. Johnson claimed he could not meet members because they were “in litigation against the government”. Aside from Gardner’s separate action, the group is sending pre-action letters to try to force a public inquiry, but denies this amounts to litigation.
“The bereaved families group isn’t backing down in its call for a public inquiry and I am not backing down in my call for a judicial review into policies I believe led to deaths in care homes,” Gardner said. ”I am delighted the EHRC have written to the court. This is a Human Rights Act case.”
The request for a judicial review of actions by Hancock, Public Health England and NHS England is being considered by a judge.
Arguments filed by Gardner claim decisions to prioritise NHS hospital capacity to deal with critically ill Covid-19 patients was “disproportionate, discriminatory and irrational”. She also alleges that the government breached the NHS Act 2006, which obliges the health secretary to take steps to protect the public in England “from disease or other dangers to health”.
The government strongly denies the claims and says it took extensive steps to protect staff and residents in care homes. It denies breaching obligations under the European convention on human rights to manage risks posed by the virus to care home staff and residents.
It said the convention must not be used to enforce an “impossible or disproportionate burden on the authorities”.