Coronavirus: Boris Johnson rejects claims he misled MPs over government guidance on care homes in letter to Keir Starmer

Fragile truce breaks down in row over official guidance, which said it was ‘very unlikely’ care home residents would be infected by virus

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 13 May 2020 19:04 BST
Coronavirus in numbers

Boris Johnson has rejected claims that he misled MPs over government guidance on the risk of coronavirus in care homes.

In a letter to Sir Keir Starmer, the prime minister said he was “disappointed” with the Labour leader’s “misleading” use of a quote from the guidance.

The fragile truce between the parties broke down on Wednesday when Sir Keir used prime minister’s questions to challenge Mr Johnson over the advice from March, which said that it was “very unlikely” that care home residents would be infected with coronavirus.

The Labour leader said the advice laid bare how the government was “too slow to protect people in care homes” – a sector that now accounts for some 40 per cent of Covid-19 deaths.

Mr Johnson replied: “No, it wasn’t true that the advice said that, and actually we brought the lockdown in care homes ahead of the general lockdown.”

But the advice from 12 March states: “This guidance is intended for the current position in the UK where there is currently no transmission of Covid-19 in the community.

“It is therefore very unlikely that anyone receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected.”

The Labour leader wrote to the prime minister, demanding Mr Johnson return to the Commons to “correct the record”.

Sir Keir said: “At this time of national crisis, it is more important than ever that government ministers are accurate in the information they give.

“Given this, I expect you to come to the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity to correct the record and to recognise that this was official government guidance regarding care homes.”

But Mr Johnson hit back, saying he was “disappointed” that Sir Keir quoted Public Health England advice “selectively and misleadingly”, adding: “I stand by my comments.”

In his reply to the Labour leader, Mr Johnson said: “I would remind you of the commitment you made, when you became Leader of the Opposition, to work constructively with the government in the face of this unprecedented pandemic.

“The public expect us to work together.”

A No 10 source told a Westminster briefing earlier that Sir Keir had omitted an earlier sentence in the guidance, which said the advice was “intended for the current position in the UK where there is currently no transmission of Covid-19 in the community”.

Elsewhere, the government announced a £600m package for infection control in care homes, which aims to reduce the rotation of staff between sites.

Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, told the Downing Street briefing: “The package includes ensuring that care homes – including the smaller, independent homes – also have expert advice from councils, from public health professionals and from the NHS to ensure they have got the best infection control, access to testing, the right protective equipment, and are making use of the new discharge policies so that residents are only arriving or returning at the home once we know that they are free from Covid-19.”

Asked if the government had not got a grip on the situation in care homes, Mr Jenrick said: “There is more that we can do and our whole focus now needs to be on ensuring that care homes are guided through the weeks and months ahead, and we protect as many people as we possibly can within them.”

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