What we learned from this week's PMQs

The policy of discharging patients from hospitals into care homes may well become the starkest failure of the government's pandemic response

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Keir Starmer won’t hold back over exposing government failures, but has found a way to do so constructively

The Labour leader’s priority to date has been to strike a constructive tone in his response to the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Today’s PMQs further clarified how Starmer plans to maintain that tone while laying bare recent failures. As though preparing a legal case, the Labour leader asked a series of non-accusatory, open questions about government decisions from as far back as March, but emphasised on several occasions that it was with the aim of “learning” from those mistakes going forward. 

The Labour leader will hope that this approach draws appropriate attention to failures in the government’s response, without drawing accusations of party political point-scoring or of trying to do the wash-up before the pandemic is over. 

The discharge policy may be one of the most severe failures of the pandemic 

In that vein, Starmer did not hold back on drawing attention to the policy on discharging people from hospitals into care homes, which stated as recently as 12 March that “it remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home will become infected”. In England and Wales, 40 per cent of UK deaths from Covid-19 have now occured in care homes: as the New Statesman and other outlets have reported, many patients were discharged into care homes from hospitals without testing.

… and Boris Johnson denied that it had been government advice

The Prime Minister said that “it wasn’t true that the advice said that”. This is not the case. Public Health England’s "Guidance for social or community care and residential settings on Covid-19" was published at the end of February, and remained the only government advice for care homes on how to protect elderly residents from coronavirus until mid-March.

Starmer has set the agenda for questions down the line

To the question, "The government has abandoned international comparison... why?" Starmer didn't receive an answer, nor did an answer come as to how the Prime Minister can explain the huge numbers of unexplained excess deaths in care homes. But those questions now hang in the air, and set the agenda for the weeks and months ahead.

Ailbhe Rea is political correspondent at the New Statesman

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