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Boris Johnson accuses care home bosses of failing to look after their residents during the pandemic 

Boris Johnson today refused to apologise for blaming care homes for their residents dying in Britain's coronavirus crisis after triggering a blazing r

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Boris Johnson today refused to apologise for blaming care homes for their residents dying in Britain’s coronavirus crisis after triggering a blazing row by accusing them of not following proper infection control procedures.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said that care homes had ‘done a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances’ but did not apologise for his remarks, which have enraged care bosses around the country.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock also declined the chance to apologise in the House of Commons this afternoon for his leader’s ‘despicable’ comments, and said his admiration for care workers was ‘second to none’.

A care home owner in Yorkshire and the North of England, David Crabtree, today said the PM had ‘picked the wrong fight with the wrong people’ and branded his comments despicable, saying the blame for care homes’ staggering death toll – now over 30,000 – lay at the feet of Mr Johnson, his ministers and government officers.

Mr Crabtree said care homes had been free of coronavirus before hospitals starting sending patients home without testing them, which then triggered deadly outbreaks.

A bitter blame game has erupted among politicians and care home chiefs after Mr Johnson said ‘too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have’.

Mark Adams, chief executive of social care charity Community Integrated Care, added that he was ‘unbelievably disappointed’ by Mr Johnson’s remarks and called them ‘clumsy’ and ‘cowardly’.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘To be honest with you, 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.’

Piers Morgan also attacked the PM for his ‘disgusting’ claim, saying: ‘I can’t even look at him anymore.’ Labour MP David Lammy said it was ‘inexcusable’ to try and shift the blame, Green MP Caroline Lucas branded it ‘utterly shameless’ and an LBC presenter called it ‘bowel-shifting dishonesty’.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma today defended his leader and claimed Mr Johnson had been trying to point out that it was unclear to everyone what the correct procedures should have been. He said the Government had ‘done our best’. 

When pressed for an apology from Mr Johnson this morning in light of the offence his remarks caused, the premier’s official spokesman said: ‘Throughout the pandemic care homes have done a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances… The PM was pointing out that nobody knew what the correct procedures were because the extent of asymptomatic transmission was not known at the time.’ 

This is how Government decisions and failings led to the coronavirus crisis in care homes:

  • At least 25,000 people were discharged from hospitals into care homes without being tested for the coronavirus in March and April, which bosses say triggered outbreaks;
  • The Department of Health did not supply adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for care staff, according to managers who accused senior officials of overseeing ‘shambolic’, ‘haphazard’ and ‘paltry’ attempts to provide it;
  • Routine testing for people living in care homes was not available throughout March and April and only small samples of people living in homes could get tests if there was a suspected outbreak;
  • Department of Health did not publicly count the numbers of people dying of Covid-19 in care homes until April 29, by which time there had been more than 3,500 fatalities. Many victims are still uncounted because they never got tested;
  • Public Health England’s advice that care homes were not at risk of Covid-19 outbreaks remained in place until March, by which time thousands of people nationwide were infected after the virus came into the country in people returning from February half-term trips to Europe.
Boris Johnson claimed too many care home facilities had ignored proper safety procedures to combat the coronavirus, which prompted an angry dispute

David Crabtree, owner of Crabtree Care Homes in Yorkshire and the North of England, said Mr Johnson's comments were 'despicable'

Boris Johnson has refused to apologise for comments in which he said ‘too many’ care homes had ignored proper safety procedures to combat the coronavirus. Care home company owner David Crabtree said the PM was ‘despicable’

David Crabtree, who owns Crabtree Care Homes, said on Good Morning Britain today: ‘Mr Johnson came to my county, Yorkshire – he’s picked the wrong fight with the wrong people… this is huge.

‘These care staff did dedicated every day to coming in here. The procedures were very very simple – you do not cross-infect, you do not move people who potentially could have had Covid with or without symptoms.

‘They were deliberately discharged… We did not have Covid in our homes. These care staff were PPE’d up from February. 

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR CARE HOMES? A TIMELINE OF FAILINGS

FEBRUARY – SAGE scientists warned Government ‘very early on’ about the risk to care homes

Britain’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, revealed in April that he and other senior scientists warned politicians ‘very early on’ about the risk COVID-19 posed to care homes.   

He said: ‘So very early on we looked at a number of topics, we looked at nosocomial infection very early on, that’s the spread in hospitals, and we flagged that as something that the NHS needed to think about. 

‘We flagged the fact that we thought care homes would be an important area to look at, and we flagged things like vaccine development and so on. So we try to take a longer term view of things as well as dealing with the urgent and immediate areas.’

The SAGE committee  met for the first time on January 22, suggesting ‘very early on’ in its discussions was likely the end of January or the beginning of February. 

MARCH – Hospital patients discharged to homes without tests

In March and April at least 25,000 people were discharged from NHS hospitals into care homes without getting tested for coronavirus, a report by the National Audit Office found.

This move came at the peak of the outbreak and has been blamed for ‘seeding’ Covid-19 outbreaks in the homes which later became impossible to control.

NHS England issued an order to its hospitals to free up as many beds as they could, and later sent out joint guidance with the Department of Health saying that patients did not need to be tested beforehand. 

Chair of the public accounts committee and a Labour MP in London, Meg Hillier, said: ‘Residents and staff were an afterthought yet again: out of sight and out of mind, with devastating consequences.’ 

MARCH – Public Health England advice still did not raise alarm about care home risk and allowed visits

An early key error in the handling of the crisis, social care consultant Melanie Henwood told the Mail on Sunday, was advice issued by Public Health England (PHE) on February 25 that it remained ‘very unlikely’ people in care homes would become infected as there was ‘currently no transmission of Covid-19 in the UK’.

Yet a fortnight earlier the UK Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling committee had concluded: ‘It is a realistic probability that there is already sustained transmission in the UK, or that it will become established in the coming weeks.’

On March 13, PHE advice for care homes changed ‘asking no one to visit who has suspected Covid-19 or is generally unwell’ – but visits were still allowed.

Three days later, Mr Johnson said: ‘Absolutely, we don’t want to see people unnecessarily visiting care homes.’

MARCH/APRIL – Testing not readily available to care home residents

In March and April coronavirus swab tests – to see who currently has the disease – were rationed and not available to all care home residents suspected of having Covid-19.

Government policy dictated that a sample of residents would be tested if one showed symptoms, then an outbreak would be declared and anyone else with symptoms presumed to be infected without a test.

The Department of Health has been in control of who gets Covid-19 tests and when, based on UK testing capacity. 

MARCH/APRIL – Bosses warned homes didn’t have enough PPE 

Care home bosses were furious in March and April – now known to have been the peak of the UK’s epidemic – that their staff didn’t have enough access to personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and aprons.

A letter sent from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) to the Department of Health saw the care chiefs accuse a senior figure at the Department of overseeing a ‘shambolic response’. 

Adass said it was facing ‘confusion’ and additional work as a result of mixed messaging put out by the Government.

It said the situation around PPE, which was by then mandatory for all healthcare workers, was ‘shambolic’ and that deliveries had been ‘paltry’ or ‘haphazard’.

A shortage of PPE has been a consistent issue from staff in care homes since the pandemic began, and the union Unison revealed at the beginning of May that it had already received 3,600 reports about inadequate access to PPE from workers in the sector.

APRIL – Care home deaths left out of official fatality count

The Department of Health refused to include people who had died outside of hospitals in its official daily death count until April 29, three weeks after deaths had peaked in the UK. 

It started to include the ‘all settings’ measure from that date and added on 3,811 previously uncounted Covid-19 deaths on the first day.

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‘A deliberate policy to discharge anybody and everybody from hospital into care homes, with or without Covid, for the sake of a two-bob test? 

‘Mr Johnson, you are responsible. The paper trail leads all the way back to you. You and your ministers and officers made this Eton mess. You are despicable for saying such a thing against the care staff that so valiantly fought for these people’s lives.’

The comments that have triggered the row were ones made by Mr Johnson during a visit to Goole in Yorkshire when he 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.’

He was responding to remarks by NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens, who said the Covid-19 crisis had shone ‘a very harsh spotlight’ on the resilience of the sector and urged the Government to enact plans for reform within a year.

Mr Johnson last night accepted change is needed, saying: ‘Most important is to fund them properly.

‘But we’ll also be looking at ways to make sure the care sector long term is properly organised and supported.’

His comments sparked an immediate backlash. Community Integrated Care’s Mark Adams accused the government’s leadership of being an ‘absolute travesty’.

When asked to explain why he called Boris Johnson’s words ‘cowardly’, Mr Adams added: ‘Because you’ve got 1.6million social care workers who, when most of us are locked away in our bunkers waiting out Covid-19, [are] really trying to protect our family.

‘We’ve got these brave people on minimum wage, often with no sickness cover at all, going into work to protect our parents, our grandparents, our children, putting their own health and potentially their own lives at risk.

‘And then to get the most senior man in the country turning round and blaming them on what has been an absolute travesty of leadership from the Government, I just think it is appalling.’

He said: ‘I think what we’re getting is history re-written in front of us, when you could list pages and pages of Government failure which the system has had to cope with.

‘And to get a throwaway comment, almost glibly blaming the social care system and not holding your hand up for starting too late, doing the wrong things, making mistake after mistake, is just frankly unacceptable.’

Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Home Forum, told the BBC the suggestion that care home workers were not following procedures was ‘totally inappropriate’ and ‘hugely insulting’.

She added: ‘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.’

Labour MP David Lammy tweeted: ‘Inexcusable to try and shift the blame onto care homes and their workers. 

‘The government was too slow to provide the right guidance, too slow on PPE and too slow on testing. The least Boris Johnson could do is take responsibility for the mistakes his Government made.’

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, a Labour MP and NHS doctor, said on Twitter: ‘Unbelievable that the Government choose to point the blame at care homes for the many avoidable deaths.

‘If lockdown had happened earlier, advice wasn’t changing every 5 mins, protective equipment provided and Govt properly funding social care – we’d have avoided much of this.’ 

The Independent Care Group, a representative body for care homes in York and North Yorkshire, said the PM’s comments were ‘a real slap in the face’.

Speaking about data released today, chairman Mike Padgham said: ‘We warmly welcome today’s continued fall in the death rate in care and nursing homes and feel it is a testament to the amazing, selfless and brave efforts by care workers during this horrific pandemic.

‘Which makes it all the more upsetting for the sector when the Prime Minister makes the comments he did, a real slap in the face for those workers after they have given and sacrificed so much.’ 

But Business Secretary Alok Sharma said that the Prime Minister had been pointing out that no-one had known what the correct procedures were.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘What the Prime Minister was pointing out is nobody knew what the correct procedures were, because we know that the extent of the asymptomatic cases was not known at the time.

‘We have done our best to put our arms around the care home sector.’ 

The Government has faced a barrage of criticism for failing to protect care homes from the virus, from a lack of testing to inadequate supplies of PPE.

Official policy for testing in care homes during the peak of the outbreak was to only swab a small sample in the home — until mass testing became available in April.

If positive cases were found, the home was assumed to have an outbreak and other residents with similar symptoms were classified as having coronavirus.

As a result thousands of care home residents were not tested, meaning outbreaks continued to spread, and thousands of those who have died during the pandemic have not been counted as Covid-19 victims because they never got tested. 

Ministers finally caved into pressure last week and announced staff and residents in care homes will regularly be tested for coronavirus.

Mr Adams added the care sector — which looks after around 400,000 Britons, around two thirds of whom have dementia — had been ‘crying out’ for weekly testing for months.

When asked whether his staff were being tested enough, he said: ‘We didn’t test social care until the end of May. So us, like most social care operators, had our losses before we started having any testing at all.

‘Yes, the testing has now reached a point where most of our staff in care homes and most of the residents have been tested once.

‘But once is absolutely useless because if you get tested and then get on the bus back home and pick up the virus on the bus, within a week you’re potentially asymptomatic and infectious.

‘We have been crying out for weekly or ideally twice-weekly testing for months and we’ve only just got that commitment – it is a question of the horse bolting and shutting the stable door.’

Somerset care home owner Christopher Dando was today reunited with his family (pictured with his wife Alison and four-year-old daughter, Edith) for the first time since Easter after moving into the home to help care for residents during the peak of the Covid-19 crisis. He said: 'Things got bad out there, people in local care homes were dying and staff infected the local hospital closed due to being overwhelmed with cases there was no good time for us to break our lockdown'

Somerset care home owner Christopher Dando was today reunited with his family (pictured with his wife Alison and four-year-old daughter, Edith) for the first time since Easter after moving into the home to help care for residents during the peak of the Covid-19 crisis. He said: ‘Things got bad out there, people in local care homes were dying and staff infected the local hospital closed due to being overwhelmed with cases there was no good time for us to break our lockdown’

Mr Dando, who runs the Court House Retirement Home in Cheddar, spent 12 weeks away from his family while he and his staff kept residents safe during the height of the crisis

Mr Dando, who runs the Court House Retirement Home in Cheddar, spent 12 weeks away from his family while he and his staff kept residents safe during the height of the crisis

A National Audit Office report last month revealed ministers had ignored warnings to stockpile essential PPE in June 2019.

Health chiefs only supplied a fifth of the gowns, a third of the eye protectors and half of the aprons that government advisers recommended.

Care home bosses were still struggling to source PPE in May, well after the brunt of the pandemic had passed.

One provider even added a £6.47-a-day surcharge on top of £4,000 monthly fees to pay for masks, gowns and gloves for staff.

And one home in Wales was forced to warn in April that staff may have to resort to wearing bin bags unless they could urgently source PPE.

The report also claimed around 25,000 hospital patients were discharged into care homes during the peak of the pandemic without all being tested for Covid-19.

Labour MP David Lammy said it was 'inexcusable to try and shift the blame onto care homes and their workers'

Mark Adams, chief executive of social care charity Community Integrated Care, said he was 'unbelievably disappointed' by Mr Johnson's remarks and called them 'clumsy' and 'cowardly'

Labour MP David Lammy (left) said it was ‘inexcusable to try and shift the blame onto care homes and their workers’, while Mark Adams (right), chief executive of social care charity Community Integrated Care, said the PM’s remarks were ‘cowardly’

Office for National Statistics figures released today revealed 1,300 care home residents passed away on April 12, the darkest day in the pandemic for the sector

Office for National Statistics figures released today revealed 1,300 care home residents passed away on April 12, the darkest day in the pandemic for the sector

Health chiefs only supplied a fifth of the gowns, a third of the eye protectors and half of the aprons that government advisers recommended.

Care home bosses were still struggling to source PPE in May, well after the brunt of the pandemic had passed.

One provider even added a £6.47-a-day surcharge on top of £4,000 monthly fees to pay for masks, gowns and gloves for staff.

MINISTERS WERE TOLD IN APRIL THAT ‘BANK’  STAFF POSE COVID-19 THREAT – BUT NO RECOMMENDATIONS WERE MADE UNTIL FIVE WEEKS LATER

Government experts warned in early April of the coronavirus risk posed by care home staff working in more than one location but guidance restricting them to one facility was not issued until more than a month later.

There are fears asymptomatic staff were unknowingly spreading the disease to the most vulnerable by working at different locations.

Advisers had raised the issue at a meeting on April 9 but it was not recommended until May 15 that staff should only work at one care home. 

The minutes of an April 9 meeting of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) show experts talked about the issue of ‘staff working between different care homes’.

They also warned of the ‘apparent lack of success’ in stopping infections in such settings, according to The Sunday Telegraph.

This was despite an expectation within the Government that shielding measures should have made care home residents the ‘last to be infected’.

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van Tam, who attended the meeting was apparently tasked with relaying the Nervtag concerns to the Department of Health and Social Care.

A meeting which took place just over a week later concluded that ‘consideration still needs to be given on interhome transmission driven by staff moving between homes’.

Government guidance published on April 16 did not mention staff movement.

It was not until May 15 that the Government advised that ‘subject to maintaining safe staffing levels, providers should employ staff to work at a single location’.

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And one home in Wales was forced to warn in April that staff may have to resort to wearing bin bags unless they could urgently source PPE.

The report also claimed around 25,000 hospital patients were discharged into care homes during the peak of the pandemic without all being tested for Covid-19.

Critics said the move, ordered to free up beds for an anticipated surge in seriously ill virus patients, was ‘extraordinary’ and showed care homes were an ‘afterthought’.

Mr Johnson’s comments sparked immediate backlash last night, with Vic Rayner, of the National Care Forum, rejecting the criticism and urging the Prime Minister to start ‘turning the dial up on reform and down on blame’.

She added: ‘Mr Johnson’s comments in relation to care homes’ following of procedures are neither accurate nor welcome.

The Independent Care Group’s chairman Mike Padgham said: ‘We should not be getting into the blame game and it is wrong to criticise care and nursing homes at this time.’

He added: ‘Care providers may not have got everything perfect but neither has the Government.

‘For much of this pandemic, providers were operating in the dark over what they ought to do and with one arm behind their backs in terms of the support they were given. In those circumstances, they have worked miracles.’

No 10 last night tried to calm the row, saying Mr Johnson had not been criticising care homes but had merely been highlighting the difficulties they faced.

‘Throughout this crisis care homes have done a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances,’ a spokesman said.

‘The PM was pointing out that nobody knew what the correct procedures were because the extent of asymptomatic transmission was not known at the time.’

It comes after damning figures last week revealed a care home resident died every minute in England and Wales at the peak of the Covid-19 crisis in mid-April.

Office for National Statistics data showed 1,300 care home residents passed away on April 12, the darkest day in the pandemic for the sector.

A total of 495 of the deaths were confirmed as Covid-19 following a positive test but the virus was likely to blame for hundreds more.

Very few care home residents were swabbed for the infection at the time because tests were reserved for the sickest hospital patients and NHS workers. 

A LACK OF TESTING AND INADEQUATE PPE SUPPLIES: HOW CARE HOMES HAVE BEEN AN ‘AFTERTHOUGHT’ IN THE PANDEMIC  

The government has faced a barrage of criticism for failing to protect care homes from the virus, from a lack of testing to inadequate supplies of PPE.

LACK OF TESTING

Official testing policy in care homes during the peak of the outbreak was to only swab a small sample in the home — until mass testing became available in April.

If positive cases were found, the home was assumed to have an outbreak and other residents with similar symptoms were classified as having coronavirus.

Ministers finally caved into pressure last week and announced staff and residents in care homes will be tested every month for coronavirus.

Experts believe one of the reasons why the infection spread early is because of asymptomatic staff who were unaware they had the virus but weren’t spotted because they were not being tested.

Staff with tell-tale symptoms may well have self-isolated but they may have been replaced by asymptomatic ‘bank’ employees who worked at more than one location. 

INADEQUATE PPE SUPPLIES

A damning National Audit Office report last month revealed ministers had ignored warnings to stockpile essential PPE in June 2019.

Health chiefs only supplied a fifth of the gowns, a third of the eye protectors and half of the aprons that government advisers recommended.

Care home bosses were still struggling to source PPE in May, well after the brunt of the pandemic had passed.

One provider even added a £6.47-a-day surcharge on top of £4,000 monthly fees to pay for masks, gowns and gloves for staff.

And one home in Wales was forced to warn in April that staff may have to resort to wearing bin bags unless they could urgently source PPE.

INFECTED PATIENTS DISCHARGED FROM HOSPITALS INTO HOMES

The NAO report also claimed around 25,000 hospital patients were discharged into care homes during the peak of the pandemic without all being tested for Covid-19.

Critics said the move, ordered to free up beds for an anticipated surge in seriously ill virus patients, was ‘extraordinary’ and showed care homes were an ‘afterthought’.

Hospitals may have broken the law by sending patients with Covid-19 back to care homes without telling their managers they had the virus, it was revealed in May.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) was told that several hospitals returned people despite suspecting – or even knowing – they were infected.

Staff at the care homes would have not realised they had the virus so may not have been wearing adequate protective clothing or taken other infection control precautions.

NHS bosses are furious to have been criticised for discharging infected patients into care homes. 

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