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Hyde Nursing and Care Home, Greater Manchester. Photo: Gerald England

Hyde Nursing and Care Home, Greater Manchester. Photo: Gerald England

Boris Johnson’s attempt to shift the blame for the impact of Covid-19 in care homes on to workers is a gross denial of responsibility, argues Victor Davis

After several weeks of giving lip service to the heroism of health and social care staff, it seems that the Tories are rapidly returning to where they are most comfortable – that is, shifting the blame and the burden on to ordinary workers for their own mistakes.  Boris Johnson’s claim last week that some care homes ‘did not follow the correct procedures’ is absolutely sticking in the claw of frontline staff who have struggled and suffered under the consequences of a crisis not of their making.

What makes Johnson’s remarks all the more insulting and hypocritical is that it is precisely in care homes where the negligence of the government, and its own disastrous failure to respond to repeated warnings about the scale of the pandemic, has exacted the most harrowing human cost.  The death toll here is now reported to be close to 20,000. 

The lack of testing has to be seen as a major factor, with staff struggling to gain access to the paltry provision which has repeatedly come up short, while patients have been discharged to care homes without being tested.

Many care workers have also reported dreadful delays in acquiring the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).  In my own service, the much taunted – but quickly forgotten about – green badges arrived long before any provisions which would actually protect the staff and the vulnerable people they support.

Far from being a man who ‘doesn’t believe in gestures’, thousands of care workers around the country have seen Boris Johnson’s government deal in nothing but gestures.  When it comes to addressing the crisis effectively enough to protect the lives of the most vulnerable, they have nothing.  They have created a situation where people are inured to early deaths in the service of the profit system, while looking to push the blame elsewhere.  Those on the front line of social care who have battled through this crisis, not to mention the millions of other workers fighting for protection against a negligent system, simply cannot go on being governed like this.

The fact is that care staff have been following the procedures and more.  The ‘more’ has been due to the fact that the government’s negligence has forced them to.  In one support service in the North East, supporting adults with learning disabilities, a member of staff only managed to acquire some visors for his colleagues by contacting a family member outside of work.

The government’s defence of Johnson’s remarks is that not enough was known about the virus in the early stages.  This is a lie.  The WHO announced a global pandemic three months ago.  By this time, Johnson had already missed five COBRA meetings in January and February.  Had he attended them, he may have been more informed.  It is possible that lives could even have been saved.

Finally, Boris Johnson did pay lip service to the need for care homes to be funded properly.  Well, they haven’t been for years and the reasons for this are obvious.  Social care has been outsourced to the private sector for decades.  Left at the mercy of profit margins, services have struggled for years from poor standards, working conditions and job security. 

It is time that social care was brought into public ownership, and provided with the greater protections this brings.  It should never be determined by business priorities.  The human cost of this has been known by care workers for many years.  The coronavirus crisis has firmly underlined how indispensable this sort of work is to society.  This needs to be reflected in far better treatment of workers and the vulnerable people they support and care for.

It is also time we had a more democratic and accountable system of running these services, in which workers are properly protected rather than scapegoated for the disastrous mistakes and callousness of governments.

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