Outrage at British PM comments on virus-hit care homes

Agence France-Presse
Critics say the rapid transfer of elderly patients from hospitals to care homes in a bid to free up beds at the start of the pandemic helped spread the coronavirus disease in the UK

JOHNSON. Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives updates on the government's response to the COVID-19 outbreak in London, United Kingdom on March 20, 2020. File photo by Julian Simmonds/AFP

LONDON, United Kingdom – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was accused Tuesday, July 7, of trying to rewrite history for appearing to blame the deadly spread of coronavirus in care homes on the institutions themselves.

Britain has suffered the worst death toll in Europe from the outbreak, with more than 44,000 confirmed deaths, and care homes have suffered badly.

The government initially said it did not believe care homes were at particular risk but it has been slow to roll out testing of both staff and patients, and many homes struggled to access protective equipment.

Critics also say the rapid transfer of elderly patients from hospitals to care homes in a bid to free up beds at the start of the pandemic helped spread the disease.

Johnson said on Monday: “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.”

The comments caused outrage among care providers, and one accused the Conservative leader of an “appalling” attempt to deflect from “an absolute travesty of leadership from the government.”

‘Kafka-esque alternative reality’

Mark Adams, chief executive of Community Integrated Care, which provides services for people with learning disabilities and dementia, told BBC radio that at best, the remarks were “clumsy and cowardly.”

“If this is genuinely his view, I think we’re almost entering Kafka-esque 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,” he said.

Adams said he was “unbelievably disappointed” in Johnson’s comments, adding: “What we’re getting is history rewritten in front of us.”

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has recorded 14,852 care home deaths involving COVID-19 in England and Wales in the year to June 26. 

But that is likely to be an underestimate, as almost 30,000 more residents have died than in the same period last year.

The National Care Forum membership organization said Johnson’s comments about care homes were “neither accurate nor welcome.”

The Independent Care Group, another representative body, said most providers had “done their absolute best in the face of slow and conflicting advice.”

And Care England, the country’s largest representative body for independent providers for adult social care, said it had still not received government guidance about safe reopening.

‘Constantly learning’

In response, Johnson’s spokesman praised the “brilliant job” that care staff were doing and suggested the prime minister had been misunderstood.

This was echoed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who was pressed on the issue by the main opposition Labour party during a debate in parliament.

“The prime minister was explaining that because asymptomatic transmission was not known about, the correct procedures were therefore not known,” he said. 

“We’ve been constantly learning about this virus from the start and improving procedures all the way through,” Hancock said, paying tribute to the work of the care homes during the crisis. 

The government says it has put in place a “comprehensive action plan” to protect care homes including providing additional funding and introducing “rigorous testing.”

But it was not until April 15 – more than 3 weeks after the nationwide lockdown – that the government committed to testing all residents before they were moved from hospital, and all symptomatic residents. – Rappler.com

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