Care home providers and unions in Scotland have condemned Boris Johnson for “deeply offensive” claims that some care homes failed to follow procedures during the coronavirus pandemic.
Donald Macaskill, CEO of Scottish Care, said the prime minister’s remarks were “highly regrettable” and suggested he was rewriting history in order to deflect blame from the UK Government for the high number of care home deaths.
Mr Johnson was also attacked by Robert Kilgour, the Fife-based CEO of Renaissance Care, which runs 15 homes across Scotland including four in Aberdeen and others in Peterhead, Forres, Inverness, Blairgowrie, Edinburgh, East Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire.
Mr Kilgour, who has donated large sums to the Conservatives, said Mr Johnson’s remarks were “deeply disappointing” but added that he would continue to support and donate to the party.
Anger erupted after the prime minister was asked what he made of NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens’ desire to see plans to adequately fund the adult social care sector within a year.
Mr Johnson said: “One of the things the crisis has shown is, we need to think about how we organise our social care package better and how we make sure we look after people better who are in social care.
“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.”
Afterwards a Number 10 spokesman claimed Mr Johnson was pointing out that “nobody knew what correct procedures were due to extent of asymptomatic transmission”.
The rewriting of history is often undertaken by those who wish to alter the narrative about themselves. I think his comments are highly regrettable and deeply offensive.”
Donald Macaskill of Scottish Care
But that explanation failed to placate Dr Macaskill, who was unable to accept that the UK Government did not know of the dangers of infectious people without symptoms being admitted from hospital to care homes.
“The rewriting of history is often undertaken by those who wish to alter the narrative about themselves. I think his comments are highly regrettable and deeply offensive,” Dr Macaskill said.
“He seems to be rewriting his own history in the sense that the commentary from Number 10 subsequent to his comments was that we didn’t know about asymptomatic presentation.”
Dr Macaskill said documents produced by the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) showed the dangers of asymptomatic cases.
“Anybody who reads Sage minutes in January, February, March cannot escape the conclusion we did know but our political leaders chose not to act,” Dr Macaskill added.
Mr Kilgour said it was “deeply disappointing” to hear the prime minister’s words and took issue with the UK Government’s previous claims that care homes had been protected.
“The idea that care homes were a priority and had a protective ring put around them by the government is a complete fiction,” Mr Kilgour said.
“This is about people, not politics, and it’s not the right time to be casting blame around in an ill-informed way.”
Union leaders call for an investigation into ‘unnecessary’ deaths
Mr Johnson’s views also infuriated union leaders whose members are working on the front line in care homes.
Deborah Clarke, Unison Scotland’s head of community who represents those working in social care, called for an investigation into the matter.
Their policies forced people untested into care homes. Staff had no PPE, no access to testing. They weren’t trained to deal with this level of pandemic and now they are being blamed.”
Deborah Clarke of Unison Scotland
She accused the prime minister of trying to blame care home staff but added that the Scottish Government was also guilty of failings in the sector.
Ms Clarke said Mr Johnson’s words had “really upset and hurt” staff and claimed the government was responsible for thousands of deaths by moving untested people from hospital to care homes.
“Their policies forced people untested into care homes. Staff had no PPE, no access to testing. They weren’t trained to deal with this level of pandemic and now they are being blamed,” she said.
“It’s just awful and what he’s trying to do is throw our members under a bus to cover up their own incompetence. They have made a dreadful mess of care homes. I understand, and we all understand, they were trying to protect the NHS but by doing that they have made themselves responsible for thousands of deaths. And I believe, along with our members, they were unnecessary.”
Ms Clarke went on to say that the Scottish Government was also guilty of pursuing the same policy of moving people into care homes.
“Unfortunately, this also applies in Scotland,” she said. “The Scottish Government did exactly the same thing. I have to say, I think they realised that little bit sooner what they were doing and they did step in to make sure staff got PPE.
“But only as little as two weeks ago did we get the fact that sick pay wasn’t being paid. Testing is out there but it is not being very successful at the moment and it is quite chaotic. The Scottish Government hasn’t got it right, either.
“I understand the principle, as do our members, that it was about protecting the NHS, but to put people untested back into care homes where there was no PPE or ability to test, they weren’t trained and their terms and conditions meant that when they got ill they didn’t get paid, I think will be something we want formally investigated.”
At her daily coronavirus briefing, Nicola Sturgeon said she would “let Boris Johnson speak for himself”.
If we had the information we have now back then, we might have done things differently.”
On the situation in Scotland, she said the Scottish Government was responsible for the response to the pandemic.
“Mistakes will have been made and I have readily accepted that,” the first minister said. “Equally, we will have done some things that we did at the time based on the best information we had. If we had the information we have now back then, we might have done things differently.”