A son who lost both his elderly parents within weeks of each other in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic said bereaved families must not be “brushed aside” as a first court hearing in legal action against the Government takes place.

Thirty deaths near the beginning of the outbreak when patients infected with the virus were transferred from hospitals into care homes are being considered as part of the case at the High Court on Wednesday.

Relatives are arguing the state failed to protect people under the Human Rights Act and have issued legal claims for damages for loss of life, personal injuries, pain and suffering, anxiety, distress and feelings of injustice, the law firm representing them said.

Families bereaved in the pandemic are taking legal action against the Government (Anthony Devlin/PA)
Families bereaved in the pandemic are taking legal action against the Government (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Lawyers said the families intend to argue that the state failed to protect their rights through failures to publish procedures, appropriate guidance, policies and rules to be applied by operators of care homes, healthcare settings and hospitals.

The legal claims have been issued in the High Court against the Health Secretary, individual care homes and hospital trusts, lawyers said.

Six of those who died were couples, including Frederick and Elsie Bethell.

Their son Stephen Bethell said the deaths of both his parents in quick succession just after lockdown was announced in 2020 still feels “surreal”.

He is calling for answers about decisions taken on medical care for his parents, who had been living in a flat together in Parklands Manor care home in Surrey for just over a year.

The 56-year-old, from Dulwich, has questioned why they did not get medical attention sooner, and spoke of difficulties getting access to their medical records.

Frederick Bethell, who had been living with dementia, became ill with an apparent respiratory condition and died aged 90 in the care home on March 29 – the date of Mrs Bethell’s birthday.

While he was not tested for Covid, his family believe he had caught the virus.

Mrs Bethell became ill not long after and was taken to hospital where she tested positive for coronavirus. She died on April 14 aged 85.

Mr Bethell told the PA news agency: “After more than three years I am still seeking answers to questions and looking for some accountability.

“People in senior appointments, in and out of Government, were making decisions that ultimately determined whether people would live or die and it seems now that nobody is prepared to own responsibility for the consequences of those decisions.

“The passing away of loved ones in circumstances such as these should not be brushed aside with no proper explanation; people deserve more than that.”

Wednesday’s hearing is the first time the case will come before a court. Legal proceedings began in March.

It is expected to be procedural, with lawyers for families requesting that the court sets a timetable to allow further time for the claims to be investigated.

This case follows a High Court ruling last year that Government policies on discharging hospital patients into care homes at the start of the pandemic were “unlawful”.

Leigh Day said families of the bereaved are not expected to attend Wednesday’s hearing in central London.

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 as many people as possible and we specifically sought to safeguard care home residents.

“We provided billions of pounds to support the sector, including on infection and prevention control, free PPE, testing and priority vaccinations.”