Man whose father, 85, died with covid says public inquiry on care homes 'cannot wait'

12 September 2020, 07:14 | Updated: 12 September 2020, 07:19

Josh Giltrap

By Josh Giltrap

A son whose father died in a care home after contracting coronavirus says he's not satisfied with the government's lack of commitment to a public enquiry.

As the country faces new coronavirus restrictions from Monday, thousands of campaigners have joined growing calls for an urgent public enquiry into the government's handling of care homes during the crisis.

Charlie Williams lost his 85-year-old dad Rex who became infected while staying at a care home in Coventry.

He told LBC: “Within less than a week of the care home receiving patients from a local hospital – my father became infected with COVID-19 and died within seven days – so it’s just been a disaster, and shocking treatment with my father, and the thousands of other care home patients who have passed away”

Asked whether he would commit to an urgent public enquiry - Prime Minister Boris Johnson told LBC it's important, but wouldn't say when it would start: “Unfortunately this pandemic is not over, and I have officials working flat out – literally every day of the week – 18 hour days – trying to make sure that we’re on top of it, that we’re distributing the testing, that we’re managing all the logistics and the difficulties that COVID presents.

“Yes we will learn lessons, and yes we will want to make sure that those individuals are all properly held to account for what happened, but I don’t want them to be consecrating that valuable time now. The time for that will come, but not right now.”

But Charlie says that's just not good enough: “If Boris Johnson really wants to learn lessons – he really needs to conduct a rapid public enquiry. This is not something that can wait. It’s absolutely needed now.

“We fully understand we’re in the middle of a pandemic, but we are in unprecedented times, and we need unprecedented action so we get to the bottom of all these systemic failings.

“There are practices that are going on as we speak. We need this rapid independent public enquiry immediately. “

One example of the importance of acting fast on coronavirus is the Berkley care home in Warwickshire.

Chief Executive Andrew Winstanley told says they decided to lockdown two weeks before they were told to - and to date have only had 18 positive cases since the start of the outbreak: “We were trying to push to get some information [asking] ‘what do we do? Should we be going into lockdown yet?’ and kept being told ‘no it’s fine.’

“So we made the call quite early that we need to take ownership for our residents and our families and we went hard, and we went early and said that’s it we’re locking down completely – and that was the beginning of March.

“You’re then faced with that dilemma where you basically scenario test and say ‘if scenario A is that I’ve locked down too early and I get in trouble from the regulator then it’s a slap on the wrist’ if scenario B is I don’t lockdown and worst case happens, then which one of those can I live with?

“And then two weeks later the government puts all care homes into lockdown.

“In hindsight has it helped, and have we been as successful as we have because of that? All I know is we wouldn’t be in a worse position by doing what we did.”

As of the 15th of April, the government's adult social care action plan says that NHS trusts would need to test all patients prior to being discharged and admitted into a care home.

This is required whether or not the patient had Covid-19 symptoms.

But for the thousands of campaigners who've lost loved ones - this blanket guidance isn't good enough - and past mistakes must be gone over with a fine tooth comb as quickly as possible to avoid any further unnecessary deaths.