Intended for healthcare professionals


Covid-19: Families sue health secretary over care home and hospital deaths

BMJ 2023; 382 doi: (Published 29 August 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;382:p1981
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. The BMJ

Families whose relatives died in care homes and hospitals in the early weeks of the covid-19 pandemic have started legal claims in the High Court.

Represented by law firm Leigh Day, the 27 families have filed 30 claims for damages—relating to the death of 30 people—against the health secretary, individual care homes, and hospital trusts.

The law firm said the families will argue that the state failed in its duty to comply with obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to protect the right to life, respect the right to private and family life, and protect the right not to be discriminated against. They are bringing their claims under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998—Acts of Public Bodies.

The cases concern deaths in the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, when patients infected with covid were being transferred from hospitals into care homes.

Leigh Day said that the claims were being brought in light of the 2022 Gardner judgment, where two judges ruled that government policy was irrational in failing to advise that asymptomatic patients sent to care homes to free up hospital beds should be isolated for 14 days.1

Commenting on the new claims, Leigh Day solicitor Beatrice Morgan said, “Our clients believe that the guidance published by the health secretary in the early weeks of the pandemic led to thousands of unnecessary deaths.

“Many feel strongly that rather than trying to protect older people during that time, the guidance put their loved ones at an avoidable risk of harm.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said, “Our thoughts are with all those who lost loved ones during the pandemic.

“Throughout the pandemic, our aim was to protect the public from the threat to health posed by covid and we specifically sought to safeguard care home residents based on the best information at the time.

“We provided billions of pounds to support the sector, including on infection and prevention control, free personal protective equipment, and priority vaccinations—with the vast majority of eligible care staff and residents receiving vaccinations.”


  • CORRECTION: This article was amended on 31 August 2023 after clarification from Leigh Day that the claims are against the secretary of state for health and social care, not against the former health secretary Matt Hancock.

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