Renewed calls for Welsh Covid inquiry after discharging hospital patients to English care homes found to be ‘unlawful’
There have been renewed calls for the First Minister to hold a Welsh Covid inquiry after the High Court ruled unlawful UK Government policies on discharging untested patients from hospitals to care homes in England at the start of the Covid pandemic.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said that a Wales-only Covid inquiry would offer an opportunity to scrutinise the way that the Welsh Government dealt differently with care homes.
She noted that mass testing in care homes in Wales was brought in a month after England, one of “several decisions made in Wales that was significantly different from that in England” that need to be scrutinised independently, she said.
“Supporters of devolution must not shy away from adequate scrutiny, especially if we want to see more powers devolved to Wales,” Jane Dodds said.
“If the Scottish Government can hold an inquiry into their actions there is no reason Wales cannot do so also.
“This is not about apportioning blame, but about learning valuable lessons.”
Plaid Cymru also renewed calls for a Welsh-only inquiry after raising questions about whether a UK-wide inquiry would be independent of the UK Government, as the First Minister had claimed.
Responding to a question from Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for South Wales Central, Heledd Fychan, the First Minister stated yesterday that the “the UK Government will not lead the inquiry. That will be the responsibility of its independent chair, Baroness Heather Hallett.”
But Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson on health and care, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, pointed to a letter that showed that the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, would have the final decision on the Terms of Reference.
In her most statement, Baroness Heather Hallett, Chair of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, said: “I hope to make my final recommendations on the UK Covid-19 Inquiry’s Terms of Reference to the Prime Minister in May.
“He will then make his final decision on the Terms of Reference. Once I have his decision, the Inquiry will begin its work formally.”
Rhun ap Iorwerth said that the letter showed that by agreeing to a UK-wide Covid inquiry the First Minister had “handed all control to Boris Johnson”.
“When news arrived that the Prime Minister had received a fine for breaking the law, the First Minister was amongst the many calling for his resignation,” Rhun ap Iorwerth said.
“Yet we have a situation where the First Minister is happy to trust that same person with responsibility for running an inquiry into how Covid-19 was handled in Wales based on the incorrect assumption that he is somehow not in charge of it.
“Just this week we have another reminder of the importance of a Covid inquiry, following the ruling from the High Court that government policies on discharging untested patients from hospital to care homes in England was unlawful. These same practices were employed by the Labour Welsh Government for patients in Wales.
“The First Minister must correct his statement, and answer the original question from my colleague: What assessment has the First Minister made of the UK Government’s ability to lead the inquiry into Covid-19 in Wales?”
The High Court ruling in England came after two women took Public Health England and the health secretary, then Matt Hancock, to court.
The women claimed key policies of discharging patients from hospitals into care homes were implemented with no testing and no suitable isolation arrangements in the homes.
In their judgement, Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Garnham found the decisions of the then Health Secretary to make and maintain a series of policies contained in documents issued on 17 and 19 March and 2 April 2020 were unlawful.
“This was not a binary question – a choice between on the one hand doing nothing at all, and on the other hand requiring all newly admitted residents to be quarantined,” they said.
“The document could, for example, have said that where an asymptomatic patient, other than one who has tested negative, is admitted to a care home, he or she should, so far as practicable, be kept apart from other residents for up to 14 days.
“Since there is no evidence that this question was considered by the secretary of state, or that he was asked to consider it, it is not an example of a political judgment on a finely balanced issue.
“Nor is it a point on which any of the expert committees had advised that no guidance was required.
“Those drafting the March Discharge Policy and the April Admissions Guidance simply failed to take into account the highly relevant consideration of the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents from asymptomatic transmission.”
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