Joy. Anger. Sadness. I felt every emotion you could think of when I heard the news that the government’s early policy on care homes in England – when elderly and vulnerable people were discharged from hospitals into care homes without being isolated – had been ruled unlawful.
The sadness was because it was a reminder that many of us had lost people needlessly. The anger rose because the ruling is proof that our government was so extraordinarily reckless. After all, it only took the common sense of your average human being to realise that you do not send untested patients into care homes. One of the first things we learned about Covid-19 was that the most vulnerable people in our society were at the greatest risk.
And yet somehow the government thought it appropriate to put them at the absolute highest risk by sending such patients into care homes alongside them. To this day, I’m still speechless when I think about it.
For me, this isn’t abstract. It’s real. In early 2020, my father was quite happily living in his care home, with no issue. In fact, when the pandemic hit, I assumed that he would be safer than everyone else and that I would be left to worry about my mother, who’s not in a care home.
Then I got a phone call saying that my father’s health had suddenly deteriorated, that he had a chest infection suspected Covid-19. I didn’t believe them at first; it didn’t make sense. I was told that there were no known cases of Covid-19 in the care home.
Fast forward, and we have since learned that there was indeed Covid-19 in his care home. In fact, the official figure for deaths with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 between April 2020 and March 2021 at the home is 22. This was confirmed when the CQC finally released the data.
My father, Vernute Williams, known to all as Rex, died on 20 April 2020 at the age of 85.
Matt Hancock, the then secretary for health, said that he had tried to throw a “protective ring” around our care homes. Protective ring. This phrase always sickened me from the day he said it. Even yesterday, after this judgment, Hancock is still saying that he did nothing wrong. He doesn’t feel he owes families such as mine an apology. He’s still in total denial.
I’ve spoken about anger and sadness. But there’s one thing missing: the joy. Where is that coming from?
I feel joy because we’re finally getting somewhere. My view is that this government is guilty of gross negligence and the manslaughter of my father. I’ve said that from day one and I’m still saying it today. The judgment gives me holding a little hope in terms of the progress we’re making in this government to account.
It’s a legal judgment from the high court. It means something. We campaigned tirelessly for a judge-led inquiry into the UK’s handling of the pandemic, which we should have had years ago. It’s now going to start next year. This will allow us to shed even further light on what happened. For now this judgment, for all those who had family members in care homes, is a big step forward.
So yesterday stands as one of the most momentous days of our campaign for justice so far. But I’ve always believed that the day will come – no matter how many PR stunts that this prime minister pulls out of the hat – when this government is finally forced to face up to what it did.