Boris Johnson says he takes ‘full responsibility’ after coronavirus care home comments — as Keir Starmer claims lack of apology ‘rubs salt in the wounds’
The two leaders clashed at PMQs.
Boris Johnson has said he takes “full responsibility” for deaths in the country’s care homes amid an angry backlash to his claim that providers “didn’t really follow the procedures“.
The Prime Minister said seeking to “blame” care workers for the crisis they have faced during the pandemic was the “last thing” he intended to do.
But he stopped short of apologising for the comments that have sparked fury among some care providers — prompting Labour’s Keir Starmer to say the PM had rubbed “salt into the wounds of the very people that he stood at his front door and clapped”.
Mr Johnson prompted a wave of criticism from care providers on Monday after 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.”
That saw the PM accused of making a “travesty of leadership” by Mark Adams, chief executive of Community Integrated Care — who said Mr Johnson’s comments were “at best... clumsy and cowardly”.
Sir Keir, who read some of the criticism from providers back to the Conservative leader at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, said Mr Johnson had caused “huge offence to frontline care workers”.
And the Labour leader said: “It's now been 48 hours. Will the prime minister apologise to care workers?”
Mr Johnson said: "The last thing I wanted to do is to blame care workers for what has happened or for any of them to think that I was blaming them because they’ve worked hard, incredibly hard throughout this crisis looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our country and doing an outstanding job.
“And as he knows, tragically, 257 of them have lost their lives.
“And when it comes to taking blame, I take full responsibility for what has happened.”
But the PM repeated an assertion given by Number 10 on Tuesday that “the one thing that nobody knew early on during this pandemic was that the virus was being passed asymptomatically from person-to-person in the way that it is”.
“That's why the guidance and the procedures changed, and it's thanks to the hard work of care workers that we've now got incidents down in our care homes, outbreaks down in our care homes to the lowest level since the crisis began,” he said.
The Labour leader pounced on those comments, telling the PM: “That's not an apology. And it just won't wash. The prime minister said — his words — ‘too many care homes didn't really follow the procedures in the way that they could have’.
“It was clear what he was saying, the Prime Minister must understand just how raw this is for many people on the frontline, and for those who've lost loved ones.”
He asked again: “Will he apologise to care workers: yes or no?”
But Mr Johnson took aim at the Labour leader, denying that he had “blamed or tried to blame care workers” with his comments.
And, in a swipe at Sir Keir, he added: “Perhaps Captain Hindsight would like to tell us whether he knew that it was being transmitted asymptomatically?
“Of course, it was necessary to change our procedures, I want to thank our care workers for what they have done, and this government will continue to invest massively in our care homes in our care workers.”
Hitting back, Sir Keir said that “by refusing to apologise” Mr Johnson “rubs salt into the wounds of the very people that he stood at his front door and clapped”.
“The Prime Minister and the health Secretary must be the only people left in the country who think that they put a protective ring around care homes,” the Labour leader said.
“Those on the front line know that that wasn't the case.”
The Prime Minister also urged the Labour leader to take part in joint talks to reform the cash-strapped social care sector “on the basis of cross-party consensus“ as he said his government had pledged to break the deadlock over funding the system “after 30 years of inaction”.
Sir Keir shot back: “I gently point out that his government has been in power for 10 years with no plan, and no white paper.”
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe