Sir Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of “trying to shift blame” for the Government’s coronavirus failings onto care homes after the Prime Minister suggested “too many” did not properly follow procedures.
The Labour leader said Mr Johnson had been “shameful” after he appeared to cast some blame on care homes for their response to the Covid-19 outbreak, saying that many “didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have”.
His comments were widely criticised and branded a “real slap in the face” for care workers by the Independent Care Group, while another sector leader said they were “clumsy and cowardly”.
On Tuesday evening, Sir Keir said on Twitter: “The Government’s own advice at the start of the pandemic said people in care homes were ‘very unlikely’ to be infected.
“Now Boris Johnson is trying to shift the blame.”
Earlier Downing Street declined to apologise and instead Mr Johnson’s official spokesman tried to clarify the comments.
“The Prime Minister was pointing out that nobody knew what the correct procedures were because the extent of asymptomatic transmission was not known at the time,” he said.
Pressed on whether Mr Johnson would like to apologise or retract the comments, the spokesman said: “As I’ve just set out, the PM thinks that throughout the pandemic care homes have done a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances.”
The Prime Minister’s remarks came after he was asked what he made of NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens’ desire to see plans to adequately fund the adult social care sector within a year.
Mr Johnson said: “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.”
But sector leaders said the suggestion that care home workers were not following procedures was “totally inappropriate” and “hugely insulting”.
Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Forum, told the BBC: “Care homes across the country were dealing with an extraordinary amount of different guidance that was coming out from Government on an almost daily basis.
“So for the suggestion that they were not following procedures as laid out is totally inappropriate and, frankly, hugely insulting.”
The Independent Care Group’s chairman Mike Padgham said it was “upsetting” for the PM to make such comments, and described them as “a real slap in the face for those workers after they have given and sacrificed so much”.
He said: “We hope he will reflect on those comments and see the incredible work the care sector has done in the recent months to care for older and vulnerable people, with late and conflicting advice and poor support in terms of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing during this awful pandemic.
“And we hope it will spur him into long-promised action to reform the sector and end the crisis in social care which left us so vulnerable to a virus like Covid-19.”
Mark Adams, chief executive of the charity Community Integrated Care, said he was “unbelievably disappointed” to hear the Prime Minister blaming care workers.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think this – at best – was clumsy and cowardly, but, to be honest with you, if this is genuinely his view, I think we’re almost entering a Kafkaesque alternative reality where the Government set the rules, we follow them, they don’t like the results and they then deny setting the rules and blame the people that were trying to do their best.
“It is hugely frustrating.”