NHS prioritised over care homes in early stages of coronavirus outbreak, minister says

20 May 2020, 08:08 | Updated: 20 May 2020, 08:38

Care homes were not prioritised over the NHS, according to Robert Buckland
Care homes were not prioritised over the NHS, according to Robert Buckland. Picture: Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The NHS was prioritised over social care in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, a government minister has admitted.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told Sky News' Kay Burley on Wednesday morning the government needs to do better on care homes in the future.

He admitted that the social care industry was not made a priority in the early stages of the UK's Covid-19 pandemic.

"We needed to make a choice about testing and we did decide to focus upon the NHS," he said.

"That was absolutely essential and now is not the time to blame people, I think that would be wholly counterproductive.

"We've got to work together, not just with the care home sector but with our scientists, all the people who advise government, and together come to sensible solutions."

When asked whether it was a government policy to prioritise the health service above all, he said: "That's right. I think that was absolutely essential."

The justice secretary conceded that there have been "huge issues" in adult social care: "We've seen a huge tragedy in our care homes which is a great regret."

He admitted there was "more to do" to protect care homes, but said every country "will look back and say there are things we could have done differently, but I think now we've got to focus on the here and now."

"There have been lots of examples of care homes that have mercifully stayed infection free," he added.

"But sadly [there have been] far too many cases of infection and then death."

There had been almost 40,000 deaths in English and Welsh care homes between 13 March and 8 May, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

This represents more than 20,000 excess deaths in the sector compared to the five-year average.

Mr Buckland was also asked about how far the government's contact tracing programme had progressed.

Despite not giving an exact update on when it would be ready, he stressed it is moving forward.

"From what I'm seeing the progress is really encouraging," he said.

"We can't let up on this, this is urgent and important work and from everything that I've seen, I'm confident that we will get this up and running very, very soon."

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