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Sun, 7 June 2020

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Coronavirus: Cabinet minister admits Government chose to prioritise testing in NHS over care homes

Coronavirus: Cabinet minister admits Government chose to prioritise testing in NHS over care homes

Robert Buckland admitted NHS staff and patients were given priority over those in care homes for testing (PA)

3 min read

The Government has been accused of leaving the “most vulnerable people out at sea without a life raft” after a Cabinet minister admitted they chose to prioritise testing in the NHS over care homes.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland defended the decision as the right one to have taken at the time.

But his comments are the clearest indication yet from those in charge that mistakes were made in response to the pandemic.

It comes after the UK’s deputy chief scientific adviser, Professor Dame Angela McLean, acknowledged the decision to abandon the coronavirus test and trace policy in March was influenced by a lack of tests.

Asked on Sky News if the focus on using the available tests for patients and staff in hospitals was to the detriment of care homes, Mr Buckland said: “Well look, I think we needed to make a choice about testing and we did decide to focus upon the NHS. 

“I think the issue with care homes is that we’ve got many different providers, many different settings. 

“There have mercifully been many case of care homes that have stayed infection-free but sadly far too many cases of infection and then death. 

“I think every country in the world will look back and say there’s things we could have done differently.”

The Government has repeatedly come under fire for not testing enough early on in care homes to prevent the spread of infection, as figures reveal almost 11,000 residents have died from Covid-19.

Pressed on whether it was to right to focus on the NHS at that moment, the minister replied: “That’s right and I think that was absolutely essential.

“And I think now is not the time to blame people. I think that would be totally counterproductive.”

And speaking later to ITV News, Mr Buckland added: “To suggest it was somehow a binary choice is an entirely false dichotomy.”

But in response Labour’s shadow minister for social care, Liz Kendall MP, said: “This is 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.

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

And the Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said: “Robert Buckland has let the cat out of the bag with his comments. 

"The idea that the Government threw a ‘protective ring’ around care homes from the start is simply not accurate. They made a choice and left care homes to fend for themselves.

“In making this decision, the Government left some of our most vulnerable people out at sea without a life raft, and they left care home staff without the PPE they so desperately needed.”

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