Government Chose NHS Over Care Homes At Start Of Coronavirus Outbreak, Says Justice Secretary

Robert Buckland says it was "absolutely essential" to put hospitals first as pressure grows on ministers over deaths in care homes.

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Robert Buckland has said the government did choose to protect the NHS ahead of care homes at the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We needed to make a choice about testing, we did decide to focus upon the NHS,” the justice secretary told Sky News on Wednesday morning.

Asked if NHS had been put “first and foremost”, he added: “That’s right and I think that was absolutely essential.”

Buckland said the number of deaths in care homes linked to coronavirus was a “huge tragedy” which was a “great regret”.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 15,000 care home residents have died in England and Wales.

The government has come under intense pressure over the spread of the virus in care homes.

Robert Buckland.
Robert Buckland.

The head of care home providers, professor Martin Green, on Tuesday told MPs infected patients were discharged from hospitals into homes, while NHS medical support was withdrawn.

“We should have been focusing on care homes from the start of this pandemic,” Green said. “We had a policy of emptying hospitals and filling care homes.

“Now given that care homes are full of people with underlying health conditions, I think we should’ve looked at focusing on where the people at most risk were, rather than thinking about a particular organisation.”

It comes after work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey said if the government had made mistakes in handling the outbreak it was because the scientific advice it had received was “wrong”.

Buckland told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Wednesday it was “unproductive” to blame others for mistakes made along the way.

“Now is not time to blame people,” he said. “We have got to work together, not just with the care home sector but with our scientists, all the people who advise government, and together come to sensible solutions.”

Liz Kendall, Labour’s shadow minister for social care, said Buckland’s comments were “the clearest admission yet that ministers did not give care homes the protection they needed at the start of this pandemic”.

“Social care and the NHS are both equally important in the fight against this virus and are inextricably linked. One cannot be prioritised above the other,” she said.

“Ministers must give social care the resources, support and attention it needs to stop the spread of this awful virus.”


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