A government minister says scientific advisers are to blame for excessive care home deaths

Ms Whately appeared to place the blame on scientists for the high death rates in care homes (Photo: Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)
Ms Whately appeared to place the blame on scientists for the high death rates in care homes (Photo: Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)

Care minister Helen Whately has said scientific advisers to the government could be to blame for failure to protect care home residents from coronavirus.

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During an interview with Sky News, Ms Whately appeared to place the blame on scientists for the high death rates in care homes when challenged about the handling of the outbreak in adult social care.

What did Whately say about care home deaths?

Speaking to Kay Burley from Sky News, Ms Whately said that there was guidance for care homes “very early” in the pandemic, and defended the decision to discharge elderly people from hospitals almost immediately so as to free up beds.

She said: “As we have learned more about the virus, we have updated those infection control guidance, we have taken more steps, we have done the social care action plan.

“At all points in this we have followed the scientific guidance as to what is the right thing to do.”

Responding to her comments, Ms Burley replied: “And then you make the policy. You take [scientists’] advice and then you make the policy - you can’t stick this on the scientists”.

The minister replied “well, I can”, prompting the broadcaster to challenge her remark.

Quickly backtracking, Ms Whately said: “That’s not what I mean to say. To be clear, that is your words. That is your words.

“What I mean to say is we have taken the scientific advice at every stage of this process.

“We’ve taken the scientific advice and then the judgement is made about what is the right decision to take.

“I know, because I’ve been doing the job, that we’re trying to do everything we can for those in care homes because we know they’re at greater risk.”

Ms Whately has previously come under fire during a television interview on Good Morning Britain, in which host Piers Morgan accused her of not knowing how many health and care staff have died from coronavirus.

Following her recent blunder, Mr Morgan labelled the MP as “utterly useless” and said she has “no idea about anything”.

He said: “ "She's the care minister who had no idea how many were dying in care homes, no idea how many health workers were dying.

"She now has no idea how many people are being quarantined. I think we establish, Helen Whately, you have no idea about anything. You're a member of the cabinet!"

Are coronavirus deaths in care homes falling?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said it is safe for people to send their loved ones into care homes, as the outbreak of coronavirus in the sector is now “coming under control”.

Coronavirus-related deaths in care homes has fallen by 79 per cent from the peak in the week from 24 April to 29 May, according to the Care Quality Commission.

The number of new care home outbreaks has also seen an almost 50 per cent fall in comparison to the previous week, Mr Hancock said.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference on Monday (8 June), the Health Secretary said: “With all the measures that we’ve put in place over the past few months, all of the billions of pounds extra that we’ve put in, it’s clear that the epidemic in care homes is coming under control.

“Even those care homes where there are cases that have very strong infection control procedures in place.

“In fact, if you look at the proportion of people in the UK who have sadly died in care homes, it is significantly lower than in comparable countries across Europe.”

A social care task force has now been announced by the UK government as part of the effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

David Pearson, former chief of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, will lead the new unit which will focus on ensuring providers have the support, training and resources to stop infection spread while looking after the people who receive care.

The news comes after Mr Hancock confirmed an extension of the coronavirus testing regime in care homes in England to all “working age care homes”, including those with people with learning disabilities or mental health problems.

A letter from the Department of Health and Social Care revealed plans to expand testing to all remaining adult care homes for those under the age of 65, regardless of symptoms, from 7 June.

The move will benefit more than 6,000 further care homes in England.