He told the health and science and technology committees that when he first requested a list of elderly care homes “we didn’t have one”.
The Department of Health has declined to say when he first requested a list.
Care homes in England register with the Care Quality Commission which has a publicly available list on its website that is updated monthly.
The Standard understands that the health regulator received a request from Government on March 25, 2020 for an updated directory to help with personal protective equipment distribution.
The regulator updated the list on a “bespoke” basis and sent the information on the following day, March 26.
Shadow social care minister Liz Kendall said: “Matt Hancock’s claims that there was no list of care homes at the start of the pandemic is at best disingenuous.”
Lib-Dem Munira Wilson said it was “astonishing” that Mr Hancock claimed he did not have access to a list of care homes. But a Government source said that data from the CQC contained “insufficient detail”.
He said there were some care homes “missing” from the list that needed to be “identified and added” and this work was done between the department and the CQC.
He added that the list did not contain enough detail to determine care homes’ exact needs – for example if they were old age or dementia care, and a lot of “deep diving” was required to work out what was needed.
He insisted the Department of Health did not have a list at the start of the pandemic, adding: “We stand by that it was really hard to get an accurate list of care homes. Whilst we did have this [CQC] one there was a lot of work needed on the data.”
The CQC confirmed it provided the Department for Health with a special update of its care directory in March last year.
A spokesman for the regulator told the Standard: “In March 2020, we provided DHSC with a bespoke update of the Care Directory to ensure the information was as up-to-date as possible, in order to help with the roll-out of PPE.”
The Department said an “accurate list” of all care homes was “not readily available” at the start of the pandemic.
It added that it is largely the responsibility of providers to inform the CQC of any changes so its list “may not be up-to-date”. In addition, “care services” not regulated by CQC needed to be taken into consideration.
During Mr Hancock’s evidence session, Labour MP Barbara Keeley pointed out there were care organisations that could have provided lists, to which he replied: “Well, absolutely we were in contact with those organisations throughout, and indeed the CQC, but none of these lists is comprehensive. This is the problem that we were facing.”
The Department said it worked closely with other public bodies including local government to “revise” the CQC’s published list “as quickly as possible”, which included removing care homes that had closed or were inactive and separating out care home locations where a care home has multiple sites but a single CQC ID/registration.