News | Published July 08 2020

PM under fire for comments made about care homes

Prime minister Boris Johnson has faced criticism for comments he made on Monday this week, after he suggested that “too many care homes didn’t really follow” coronavirus safety procedures.

The comments in question were made after the PM was asked to respond to remarks made by NHS England chief Sir Simon Stevens, who informed the BBC that the Covid-19 pandemic had shone a “harsh light” on the “resilience” of the care industry, before calling for urgent reform to guarantee long-term funding and quality care provision.

Johnson responded: "One of the things the crisis has shown is we need to think about how we organise our social care package better and how we make sure we look after people better who are in social care.

"We discovered too many care homes didn't really follow the procedures in the way that they could have but we're learning lessons the whole time."

His comments have been met with backlash from the care sector, with Mark Adams, chief of the Community Integrated Care charity, labelling them “clumsy and cowardly”.

Adams said: "If this is genuinely his view, I think we're almost entering a Kafkaesque alternative reality where the government sets the rules, we follow them, they don't like the results, they then deny setting the rules and blame the people that were trying to do their best."

Health secretary Matt Hancock heaped praise on care homes for the “amazing work” they had put in during the Covid-19 pandemic but distanced himself from suggestions that the PM should be made to apologise.

Providing context to Johnson's remarks, Hancock told MPs: "The PM was explaining that because asymptomatic transmission was not known about, the correct procedures were therefore not known.”

Hancock added that the government had been in a process of “constantly learning” about Covid-19 “from the start” and was forced to keep “improving procedures all the way through”.

Questioning Hancock in the House of Commons, Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for a government apology, saying: "Care providers were sent conflicting guidance throughout this outbreak, staff could not access testing until mid-April and are still not tested routinely, PPE supplies have been inadequate, thousands of families have lost their loved ones in care homes to this disease, care workers themselves have died on the front line.

"Can he understand why people are so insulted by the PM's remarks when he said too many care homes didn't really follow the procedures?"

A Downing Street spokesperson later confirmed that Johnson would not issue an apology.

Elsewhere, communities minister Lord Greenhalgh told the House of Lords that guidance issued to care homes earlier in the pandemic was “not as clear as it could have been”.

Reaction from the wider care industry has also been scathing, with the National Care Forum calling the PM’s remarks “hugely insulting” to care workers.

With regards to the long-term funding of the care sector, in the 2019 Conservative election manifesto, the party had promised to provide an additional £1 billion per year to the social care sector in England over the next five years.

To date, an additional £3.2 billion emergency fund has been provided to local authorities in England to go toward social care costs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, while the government has promised to invest £600 million in helping care homes control infection.

Meanwhile, industry body Care England has accused the government of unnecessary delays over publishing new guidance around visitors being allowed back into care homes.

Chief executive Martin Green said: "We are at a loss to know why the Department of Health and Social Care [DHSC] is incapable of making swift decisions at a time of crisis.

"As the country unlocks, care providers are in the dark as to what is permissible in terms of visitors to their residents, or indeed residents leaving their homes on visits.

"This should have been a priority for the DHSC given that care homes are central to fighting this dreadful pandemic".

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
July 08 2020

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