Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
13 May 2020updated 23 Jul 2021 9:31am

No 10’s letter to Keir Starmer only reinforces its failure on care homes

Boris Johnson's letter to the Labour leader draws attention to the eight-day delay between known community transmission and an update on care homes policy.

By Ailbhe Rea

Keir Starmer, speaking at PMQs today, highlighted perhaps the most damaging aspect of the UK’s coronavirus response to date. As recently as 12 March, the only government advice on how to protect care home residents from Covid-19 stated “it remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home will become infected”. However, 40 per cent of all deaths from the virus in England and Wales have now occurred in care homes. 

During their exchange, Boris Johnson told Starmer it was “not true” that this advice was government policy, prompting the Labour leader to demand a return of the Prime Minister to the House of Commons to correct the record “at the earliest opportunity”.

Now, Johnson writes to Keir Starmer to accuse him of quoting Public Health England’s advice “selectively and misleading” by neglecting to the “critical context”. The context referred to is a line stating the guidance was “intended for the current position in the UK where there is currently no transmission of Covid-19 in the community”.

But this is not the great exoneration Downing Street may think it is. The problem is that this guidance remained in place until 13 March, more than a week after the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, confirmed publicly that it was “highly likely” community transmission had started and that the UK should proceed on the assumption that this was the case. 

The guidance continued to say that cases in care homes were “very unlikely” for eight days after there was known community transmission. 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Downing Street may feel it has found a get-out-of-jail-free card to dismiss the accusation of misleading parliament, but it does nothing to dispel the bottom line. The policy for care homes was inadequate and the effort to remedy it was, it seems, fatally slow. “Slow” is the word Starmer has turned to again and again as he characterises the government’s coronavirus response. Downing Street’s response does nothing to refute that accusation.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them