LONDON (Sputnik) - UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's claim that care home workers had not followed the correct procedures on tackling the sizable coronavirus outbreak in the facilities is nothing but an attempt to deflect blame from the government, which itself initially left the largely private care sector with minimal advice and failed to foresee the risks of virus transmission, despite a 2016 pandemic report's warnings, Dr John Puntis, co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public (KONP), told Sputnik.
Following the emergence of coronavirus in the UK, around 25,000 patients are believed to have been discharged from NHS hospitals into the largely private care sector prior to the government implementing proper testing schemes. The move was meant to free up much-needed bed space on NHS wards, but nearly 20,000 care patients have subsequently died from COVID-19. On Monday, Johnson said that "too many care homes didn't really follow the procedures in the way that they could have."
"There's no doubt that they [the government] are gearing up to pass the blame on to others. We are seeing this repeatedly now. They're saying public health reacted slowly, civil servants didn't have a grip on the crisis and the problems with PPE were due to world-wide demand whereas the national audit office, I think, said actually it's because they didn't stockpile it," Puntis said.
The cabinet, he went on, "tried shifting focus onto scientists to say their advice was wrong and also referred to previous governments not having reacted to previous research."
"So there's a huge lot of blame shifting going on," the doctor added.
Johnson notably told the parliament on Wednesday that he accepts "full responsibility" for the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak, an event that has led to over 44,500 deaths and controversy over the adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). Although the prime minister was insistent that he was not seeking to blame care home workers themselves, he did omit an apology for his controversial remarks.
According to Puntis, the cabinet itself left the care sector without proper advice on how to proceed, something that had led to obvious problems when patients were transferred out of hospitals into local care homes.
"They'd been abandoned in many respects in terms of advice, PPE and testing ... something like 25 thousand people have been sent out of hospital into cares homes without being tested and the official government advice early on was that it would be very unlikely there would be an issue with Covid infections in care homes," the KONP co-chair said.
Puntis argued that the apparent vulnerability of the care sector in the event of a pandemic was already known to the authorities, given previous anti-pandemic exercises such as 2016's Exercise Cygnus had uncovered them.
The conclusive report had then apparently put forward a number of proposals specific to the care sector in the event of an influenza outbreak, recommending that both bed capacity and staffing levels be increased. The Cygnus conclusions are also believed to have stated issues would necessarily arise in the event of hospital patients being admitted into care homes, a point critics have repeatedly claimed the government failed to address.
"The pandemic exercise in 2016 identified a potential problem with care homes and with also workers moving from one home to another and transmitting the infection. So the problem with care homes being effected in a pandemic was flagged up along with many other things. But nothing was really done about that," Puntis asserted.
The doctor noted that it is "extremely sad" that about 20,000 coronavirus-related deaths out of a total of over 44,000 had been in care homes.
"If you contrast that with Germany the proportion of patients dying in our care homes is 13 times higher than Germany. So there are places that have looked after care homes in a different way," Puntis said.
As for the claims of Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock that the cabinet had "thrown a protective ring around care homes" since the onset of the pandemic, they are "about as far opposite of the truth as you could get," according to the doctor.