Hancock accused of “passing the buck” to local councils for care homes

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He said the government “tried” to put a ring of protection around care homes, but claimed it had “extremely limited” powers at the start of the pandemic.

He also said his department did not have a list of elderly care homes.

Critics pointed out that the regulator, the Care Quality Commission, has a publicly available directory on its website that lists all care homes in England. Local authorities also have lists.

Ghost Communities and Local Government Secretary Steve Reed said it was an “astonishing” admission by the Health Secretary who should have had the information “at hand.”

He added: “Once again, Matt Hancock is trying to pass the buck to councils and government officials in order to turn away from his own failure to protect residents of nursing homes.”

Mr Hancock told MPs yesterday: “I am Secretary of State for Health and Social Affairs. Yet at the start of this pandemic, the powers I had over social care were extremely limited.

“Formal powers belong to local government and formally social care is the responsibility of local government, but I feel it deeply.

“We didn’t have the data. When I first asked for a list of all retirement homes, we did not have one. Which I find totally extraordinary, but it’s true.

The health secretary also said nursing home deaths “weigh heavily on me and always will.”

He said a decision not to prioritize testing for patients referred to care homes was partly made on the advice that testing people without symptoms would produce false negatives.

It comes after former senior aide to the prime minister Dominic Cummings said claims the government put a protective shield around nursing homes at the start of the pandemic were “complete nonsense”.

The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.

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