Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty has rebutted Boris Johnson’s comments blaming care homes for coronavirus deaths saying his “enthusiasm for blaming people for anything is zero”.
The prime minister caused consternation within the sector when he said during a recent visit to Yorkshire “we discovered too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have”, Nadra Ahmed, chair of the National Care Association, called his comments a “slap across the face of social care” and said the prime minister needed to apologise and retract his statement.
Appearing at the Health and Social Care Committee, Professor Whitty said that main risks in social care settings were not considered early on in the pandemic, including staff working in various residences and those not paid sick leave.
In a sometimes heated exchange with the committee chair and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, professor Whitty stated that it was evident the UK and other countries around the world had “not handled this well” in relation to issues in social care settings.
During the committee session, Professor Whitty was pushed on comments from prime minister, appearing to blame care homes for failing to follow proper procedures.
Asked whether care home deaths were caused by them not following procedure, he said: “First of all my enthusiasm for blaming people for anything is zero. That is absolutely not the way you deal with any kind of situation in health care or social care – that’s across the board. That would be my starting point.”
He continued: “I think it is clear that every country that has a care sector has not handled this well. The UK is one country that has not handled this well in terms of issues in social care, but the same is true, as previous speakers said, the numbers are very similar, or even higher, in terms of proportions of deaths in almost every country you look at this.”
Professor Whitty added: “This across the board this has been a major problem. Some of this I think comes from the fact we had not recognised what are in retrospect obvious but were not obvious points early on.
“For example, the fact that people working in multiple homes, people who were not paid sick leave – that is a clear risk. These were major risks in social care settings. There are a lot of things we have learnt that we can now do a lot better in social care and I don’t think any of us will look back at what happened in social care and say the ideal advice was given and this was the fault of anyone.”
In June Professor John Edmunds, a member of SAGE, said that not going into lockdown sooner had cost “a lot of lives” while his former colleague Prof Neil Ferguson claimed Covid deaths could have been halved.