Government 'too slow to protect people in care homes' says Sir Keir Starmer

13 May 2020, 12:51

'Was the government too slow to protect workers in care homes?

By Megan White

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the Government was “too slow to protect people in care homes” during the coronavirus crisis as he clashed with Boris Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions.

The Prime Minister announced a further £600 million for infection control in care homes on Wednesday in the House of Commons.

Opposition leader Mr Starmer said we needed to “rapidly reverse” the effect of the virus in care homes after it was revealed the coronavirus death toll there could be more than double that which was previously calculated.

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The latest Office of National Statistics figures showed at least 40 per cent of deaths from Covid-19 were in care homes.

The Labour leader also tackled Mr Johnson over the Government’s use of international death statistics, which had previously been included in the daily press briefing slides but were dropped yesterday.

Sir Keir Starmer speaks during PMQs on Wednesday
Sir Keir Starmer speaks during PMQs on Wednesday. Picture: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Opening PMQs in the Commons, Sir Keir said: "In his speech on Sunday the Prime Minister said we need to rapidly reverse the awful epidemic in our care homes, but earlier this year, and until 12 March, the Government's own official advice was, and I'm quoting from it, 'it remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home will become infected'.

"Yesterday's ONS figures show that at least 40 per cent of all deaths from Covid-19 were in care homes. Does the Prime Minister accept that the Government was too slow to protect people in care homes?"

Mr Johnson replied: "No Mr Speaker it wasn't true that the advice said that, and actually we brought the lockdown in care homes ahead of the general lockdown."

He added: "And a huge exercise in testing is going on, a further £600 million I can announce today for infection control in care homes, and yes it is absolutely true that the number of casualties has been too high but I can tell the House, as I told (Sir Keir) last week and indeed this week, the number of outbreaks is down and the number of fatalities in care homes is now well down.

He added that there "is much more to do but we are making progress" on reducing the pandemic in care homes.

But Sir Keir said: "The Daily Telegraph this week carried the following quote from a cardiologist - 'we discharged known, suspected and unknown cases into care homes which were unprepared with no formal warning that patients were infected, no testing available and no PPE to prevent transmission. We actively ceded this into the very population that as most vulnerable'.

Why has the Government stopped publishing international comparisons

"Does the Prime Minister accept that the cardiologist is right about this?"

Mr Johnson replied: "I have the upmost respect for all our medical professionals who are doing an extraordinary job in very difficult circumstances but what I can tell the House is that actually the number of discharges from hospitals into care homes went down in March and April.

"And we had a system of testing people going into care homes and that testing is now being ramped up."

Sir Keir asked why the Government has "stopped publishing" international comparisons, with the PM saying it was too early to make comparisons between countries in terms of Covid-19-related deaths.

Mr Johnson said: "The UK has been going through an unprecedented once-in-a-century epidemic.

"And he seeks to make comparisons with other countries, which I'm advised are premature because the correct and final way of making these comparisons will be when we have all the excess death totals for all the relevant countries.

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"We do not yet have that data. I'm not going to try to pretend to the House that the figures when they are finally confirmed are anything other than stark and deeply, deeply horrifying. This has been an appalling epidemic.

"What I can tell the House is that we are getting those numbers down, the number of deaths are coming down, the number of hospital admissions is down."

Bur the Labour leader said he was "baffled" by Mr Johnson's dismissal of the need for international comparisons, given the Government had done so for seven weeks with its press conference slides.

He told Prime Minister's Questions: "The problem with the Prime Minister's answer is it's pretty obvious that for seven weeks when we weren't the highest number in Europe they were used for comparison purposes, as soon as we hit that unenviable place they've been dropped."