Boris Johnson just took responsibility for the care home crisis – so what will he do about it?

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Hollie Richardson
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Boris Johnson

Days after deflecting the blame for the devastating number of coronavirus deaths in care homes, the prime minister has now said he takes “full responsibility for what has happened” – and yet he refuses to apologise for not taking faster action. Is this yet more proof that the government isn’t prepared to learn from mistakes and make real societal changes?

There was a time, not so long ago, when the prime minister and his government took to their doorsteps every Thursday to clap for our NHS and keyworkers. In fact, it was only a matter of weeks ago. 

Boris Johnson, who was taken into intensive care with Covid-19 in April, said he “owes his life to the NHS” after recovering from the virus. While health secretary Matt Hancock wrote a letter to thank health and social care workers for “going the extra mile”.

It shouldn’t take a pandemic to ensure NHS and keyworkers finally get the respect they deserve for the jobs they do; but it did, for a moment, feel like there was a societal shift in motion to rectify this.

“Protect the NHS” was the key message echoed by the government at every opportunity. “Thank you NHS” T-shirts quickly became the coveted fashion item. Murals of NHS superheroes appeared on walls all over the country.

And yet, it already feels like the changes promised with each clap have just fallen silently to the wayside. 

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Earlier this week, the PM was publicly criticised for “blaming” the devastating number of care home deaths on care home managers, saying “too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures”.

But yesterday (7 July), when Labour leader Keir Starmer challenged the PM about his comment, Johnson said the last thing he wants to do is “blame care workers for anything that’s happened” and admitted he takes “full responsibility for what has happened” in care homes. 

Urged by Starmer to say sorry, Johnson said: “He keeps saying that I blamed or tried to blame care workers and that is simply not the case. The reality is we now know things about how the coronavirus is passed, person to person, without symptoms, that we just didn’t know.”

Finally, after months of being challenged over taking too long to react to the crisis, Johnson took accountability on the issue, but no actual apology was given.

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This happened on the same day it was announced free hospital parking for NHS staff – which has been in place since 25 March – will only continue for “key patient groups and NHS staff in certain circumstances” once the coronavirus pandemic begins to ease.

And it was only a few days ago, after unions called for the government to deliver an early pay rise by the end of this year for NHS workers in an open letter, that health secretary had skirted around a direct response by saying they will be “rewarded“. 

Based on his previous suggestion to hand out badges and medals to staff, a “reward” could mean anything.

The government has changed the rules around free hospital parking from NHS staff.

New data, commissioned by healthcare regulatory bodies the Care Quality Commission and Healthwatch England, shows over two-thirds of people in England are now ready to help improve health and social care, post Covid-19.

But is the government still on the same page as us? Why is it already going back on changes made to help the nation through the ongoing pandemic?

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Because there is so much more that has happened in the last couple of months that suggests the government is flicking back to a time before coronavirus. 

It was just last month when footballer Marcus Rashford campaigned for the government to make a U-turn on its decision to stop free dinner vouchers for children in low-income families during the summer holidays.

Thankfully, with the help of the nation’s backing, he won – but it’s mind-boggling that he had to fight for this in the first place.

Then, there was the government’s decision to prematurely end the paid placements student nurses were offered during Covid-19. This meant that many students who signed up for a paid placement will now miss out on a month’s work and payment. 

And, throughout all of this, there has been no accountability for the disproportionate number of ethnic minority deaths

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Yes, these are unprecedented times, and the government was never going to get it perfect. But as it continues to swiftly drive the UK through lockdown easing and into a “new normal”, it really doesn’t feel like actions are going to be taken on lessons learned after all. 

With a second wave predicted for the winter months, the echoing sounds of claps might only be a somber reminder of what could have been.

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…