Representatives of the care homes sector have reacted angrily to comments made by Boris Johnson in a broadcast interview on a visit to Goole on Monday.
The Prime Minister said: “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.
“One of the most important things is to fund them properly, so we’re putting another £600m into Covid-compliant care homes. But we’ll also be looking at ways to make sure the care sector, long term, is properly organised and supported.”
Organisations representing care homes have variously called his remarks “inaccurate”, “insulting” and “cowardly”.
No evidence offered
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman has since clarified that “the Prime Minister was pointing out that nobody knew what the correct procedures were because the extent of asymptomatic transmission was not known at the time.”
This sounds rather different to the words he used in the original interview, but Mr Johnson has declined to retract his original words or apologise for them.
Not surprisingly, the government has not offered any evidence to back up the initial claim that care homes “didn’t really follow the procedures in the way they could have”.
Lack of data
It’s not clear if any hard data actually exists on whether care homes have been following government guidance on controlling the coronavirus in England.
The Care Quality Commission, the main body that inspects and regulates care homes here, told FactCheck they have done some inspections during the lockdown period and have “taken action in response to poor care” but did not supply figures relating to compliance with guidelines.
Kate Terroni, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care at the CQC, told us: “The vast majority of care homes have been doing an absolutely fantastic job of keeping people safe.
“During this crisis, our inspectors have contacted more than 80 per cent of all providers – over 20,000 care homes – to offer support, advice and guidance, including help accessing PPE and advice on infection control.
“We reduced the number of physical inspections in order to limit the number of people going in and out of care homes, but we’ve continued to inspect where we have serious concerns about care and have conducted nearly 50 inspections during lock down.
“In some of these cases we’ve taken action in response to poor care, but we have also seen lots of examples of staff going to extraordinary lengths to protect the people in their care.”
Criticism from care homes
People who represent the care homes sector have offered a number of criticisms of how the Covid-19 crisis was handled.
While we can’t say definitively what happened yet, or seek to apportion blame, we can note that there is a factual basis to some of these complaints.
It’s right to say that UK government guidance published in February did not warn visitors to stay away and stated that it was “very unlikely” that care home residents would become infected.
The guidance was issued on February 25 and was only withdrawn and updated on March 13.
But minutes from the government’s SAGE advisory committee show that ministers were already being warned that “it is a realistic probability that there is already sustained transmission in the UK” as early as February 10.
Lack of testing
It’s also true to say that significant numbers of patients were transferred from hospitals to care homes without being tested for the coronavirus.
There was a drive to free up hospital beds in March and April, but people could be transferred to care homes without being tested until April 15, when the government launched its adult social care action plan.
More than 25,000 people were discharged from hospitals into care homes between March 17 and April 15, when the rules changed.
We don’t know how many of these people had coronavirus. NHS Providers says a “small number of asymptomatic patients” may have been transferred before “this was quickly identified as an issue and appropriate arrangements were put in place”.
The action plan also said that from April 15 all care home residents showing symptoms of Covid-19 should be tested, not just the first five people.