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Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said the prime minister’s mention of a “palpable improvement” in care homes in recent days was in reference to statistics showing the number of deaths there is now reducing.
But No.10 could not immediately provide statistics to back up its claims.
The latest figures published on Tuesday showed deaths in care homes rising week on week up to April 24 with only hospital deaths falling, prompting deputy chief scientific adviser Angela McLean to say the UK was yet to “get to grips with” the situation.
Asked about Johnson’s comment at prime minister’s questions in the Commons, the spokesperson said: “Deaths in care homes and hospitals are both falling.
“That is what that was a reference to.”
He added: “Deaths in care homes are now falling as they are in hospitals.
“But I think we’re also clear we’ve got more that we still need to do in dealing with the spread of the virus in care homes and we are working hard on that with Public Health England and others.”
Asked to provide the figures, the spokesperson said: “Let me see whether the figures are published yet but certainly statistics we’ve seen show that deaths in care homes and hospitals are both falling.”
Johnson said earlier: “There is an epidemic going on in care homes, which is something I bitterly regret, and we have been working very hard for weeks to get it down.
“A huge amount of effort has been gone into by literally tens of thousands of people to get the right PPE into care homes, to encourage workers in care homes to understand what is needed.”
At PMQs, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer picked up on McLean’s comments, asking: “Yesterday’s figures that show that whilst happily in hospitals it looks as though deaths are falling, deaths in care homes continue to go up.
“At the press conference last night, the deputy chief scientific adviser said, and I quote: ‘What this shows us is that there’s a real issue that we need to get to grips with in relation to what’s happening in care homes.’
“I couldn’t agree more, but 12 weeks after the health secretary declared that we’re in a health crisis, I have to ask the prime minister – why hasn’t the government got to grips with this already?”
The PM replied: “I can tell him actually that he’s not right in what he just said about the state of the epidemic in care homes because if he looks at the figures, in the last few days, there has been a palpable improvement.
“We must hope that that continues and we will ensure that it does continue.”
It came as 11 organisations, representing people with learning disabilities, cognitive disabilities, mental health support needs, autism and the elderly say they are at an increased risk of exploitation, violence and abuse due to a lack of care home inspections.
Visits to care homes from families and friends have significantly reduced during the lockdown, while inspections by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have paused for the majority of residences.
The regulator said on March 16 it was suspending routine inspections of care homes and hospitals, except for “in a very small number of cases” where there are “concerns of harm, such as allegations of abuse”.
On behalf of the groups, law firm Leigh Day has written to the CQC asking it to “urgently reconsider its approach” and suggesting ways to safely resume inspections.