Gardner v Secretary of State for Health and Social Care – Judicial Review Further Update

The public challenge brought by claimants Dr Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris in respect of the government’s COVID-19 hospital discharge policy reconvened on Friday, 22 October. The days’ submissions followed from the adjourned hearing on Tuesday, 19 October, reported here. This blog will explore the key issues addressed at the hearing, and consider the way forward for the claimants’ case.

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Gardner v Secretary of State for Health and Social Care – Judicial Review Update   

The judicial review of the government’s early response to COVID-19, specifically in respect of discharging COVID-19 positive patients into care homes, commenced yesterday with Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Garnham presiding. Permission for the review was granted on all grounds by Justice Linden following an appeal by the bereft claimants Dr Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris. This blog will explore the key issues addressed at the hearing yesterday.

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Judicial review of Government response to COVID in care homes: imminent hearing in England & significant developments in Scotland

Last November we reported on Mr Justice Linden’s decision to grant permission for judicial review on all grounds of the UK government’s policies and measures which had a bearing on the protection of care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The claim, which relates to patient discharge policy in England, will be heard later this month. In respect of Scotland, recently released information by public health authorities appears to acknowledge some important difficulties there in the early part of last year. This blog explores the key issues in both jurisdictions and sets the scene for the (English) judicial review later this month.

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Mandatory vaccinations and medical exemptions of care home workers – government u-turn or a temporary reprieve?

It has recently been reported that care home workers are able to opt-out of the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirement by self-certifying that they are medically exempt.

Thursday 16 September 2021 was meant to be the deadline for all carers to have received their first COVID-19 vaccination. This mandatory vaccine requirement for all care home staff has been a source of constant debate since it was announced, with growing concerns that a significant number of care homes may be forced to close and thousands of staff from an already depleted workforce risked losing their jobs if they declined to have the vaccine. The government has been lobbied by both providers and unions that care home workers had been “singled out” and the very real possibility of the doomsday scenario of a mass exodus of care home staff in England, so it perhaps does not come as a great surprise that Whitehall has taken some evasive action (perhaps with an indication as to how many staff had refused the vaccine). However, how effective will this self-certification opt out process be and is it only a temporary fix to what has become a polarising political issue.

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Mandatory vaccines for care home workers ‘irrational’?

The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021 was made into law on 22 July 2021 and is scheduled to come into force for 11 November 2021.

This development has garnered a lot of press coverage as it makes it a requirement that any worker in a care home environment has to have been fully vaccinated unless they are exempt from vaccination.

Although it  is not yet in force an attempt has been made to judicially review the lawfulness of it.

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Could restricted access to dental care lead to claims?

A recent article in The Telegraph has highlighted the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the dental health of children.

NHS figures reveal that the number of children having dental check-ups fell by 50 per cent during the first year of the pandemic. In total, the number of under 15s who saw a dentist fell from 5.8 million to 2.9 million.

It is, however, the youngest age groups which have been impacted the most. Whilst there were 1.2 million dentists’ appointments for under 5s in 2019, only 468,000 appointments were arranged for 2020, a 60% fall. The article suggests that only 1 in 7 children under the age of 5 saw a dentist in 2020 compared to 1 in 3 during 2019.

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The continuing search for answers on COVID-19 and care homes north and south of the border

North of the border

As at 29 November 2020, there had been 2,315 COVID-19 (C-19) related deaths in Scottish care homes. On 27 May 2020, the First Minister of Scotland committed Scottish Government to holding a public inquiry into the handling of all aspects of the C-19 pandemic, including those relating to care homes, however calls are growing for a more immediate inquiry into the care home aspects.

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Study suggests excess death toll in care homes from Covid-19 has been hugely underestimated

An early draft of a study from the University of Manchester suggests there may have 10,000 more deaths of care homes residents than previously reported.  The study compares statistical data on deaths in care homes between January 2017 and February 2020 with data from April to August 2020. 

This study has not yet been peer reviewed, but notes that of the excess deaths, 65% were only directly attributed to Covid-19.  That leaves the remaining 35% (10,000 deaths) that were not officially attributed to Covid-19.  The question is what caused those excess 10,000 deaths. 

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Scottish care homes – COVID-19 and human rights

On 26 September 2020, the Herald newspaper reported that “moving elderly from Scots hospitals to homes during coronavirus pandemic may have been illegal.” The article focuses on the discharge from hospitals to care homes of “hundreds” of adults lacking in full legal capacity (ability to make relevant decisions). Edinburgh Napier University’s Centre for Mental Health and Capacity Law has expressed concern that since the start of the COVID-19 (C-19) pandemic, movement from hospitals to care homes of adults without capacity may have taken place without due legal process and in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). ECHR rights said to be engaged include the right to personal liberty and security and the right to respect for private and family life. The CRPD aspect concerns equal rights for people with disabilities. Particular issues arising include the extent to which steps were taken to ascertain whether particular adults were capable of expressing a wish and whether family members and any legal guardian were consulted before people were moved.    

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