Politics

Government coronavirus pledges that were cracked up

We’ve had billions for businesses, testing and ventilator pledges, new hospitals built in weeks – and more. But while the government is acting in unprecedented times, not every single one of its statements stands up to scrutiny.

The might of government has thrown its weight behind trying to keep Britain afloat in the coronavirus crisis.

We’ve had billions in funding for businesses, promises on testing and ventilators, new ‘Nightingale’ field hospitals built in weeks, and help for the NHS and social care.

Many of these announcements have been made at the daily 10 Downing Street press conference.

But not all the utterances at those 5pm briefings have been quite what they were cracked up to be.

Sometimes, journalists and the general public come away from the press conferences without having been given all the facts, which only emerge some time later on.

So in the interests of public duty, we’ve analysed seven pledges that were made either in No10, or by the government more widely, that didn’t quite happen as advertised.

Ministers are of course working in unprecedented times, and some things they’re going to get wrong. But it’s important to know when something hasn’t quite met the grade.

1. 25,000 tests per day

A government statement on March 18 said testing for coronavirus would be ramped up to 25,000 a day, a level “expected to be ready within four weeks”.

But at no point did the number top 20,000 – despite No10 claiming capacity had risen to 35,000 by April 16.

The failure prompted furious recriminations, with Downing Street saying it was “clear” the NHS and Public Health England should fill capacity – but insiders blaming bureaucracy and poor planning for labs on the go-slow.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock incorrectly claimed the target was set for “the end of April”, and superseded by a new target to hit 100,000 by the end of the month.

But with testing still below 20,000 a day with two weeks to go, that 100,000 target looks like it could be in doubt.

2. 250,000 tests per day…

On March 25, the Prime Minister claimed the UK would be going “hopefully very soon up to 250,000 per day.”

But Boris Johnson didn’t say when or how, and his pledge has never been repeated.

Questioned afterwards, the government said the ambition remained but there was no set date for it to happen.

The 250,000 included both antigen tests, which show if you currently have Covid-19, and antibody tests.

Antibody tests might show if you’ve been infected in the past and have some immunity.

On March 19, Boris Johnson claimed the finger-prick devices would be “as simple as a pregnancy test” and have the “potential to be a total gamechanger.”

But none of them have yet been approved for mass use, and many have failed completely, giving false results.

On March 25, National Infection Service director Sharon Peacock said 3.5million of antibody tests had been ordered – and she expected them to go through the approval process by the end of the week. This did not happen.

The government has ordered several different designs of antibody test, none of which yet work. No10 refused to say where they were ordered from, but said it ‘doesn’t recognise’ claims it blew $20m on tests that don’t work.

3. ‘All key social care workers’ getting a test

The lack of testing for NHS staff put the government in the firing line – so you can understand if ministers wanted to get ahead of the criticism.

And on April 10, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced: “I can announce today we have capacity for all key social care staff and NHS staff who need to be tested.”

But while it was great news at last for NHS staff, there was a crucial word in the statement – “key”.

While all NHS staff with symptoms could get tested, the same was not yet true at that point of all staff in care homes.

The discrepancy prompted fresh claims that social care staff were being treated like second-class carers.

At the time of Mr Hancock’s announcement, not only could they not all get a test – they also faced new residents coming in from hospital without being tested either.

Both those situations were remedied the next week. But care home deaths still aren’t included in daily statistics, which means they risk becoming a forgotten factor of the outbreak.

4. ‘New procedures’ on the right to say goodbye

Matt Hancock pledged to end the indignity of coronavirus victims dying alone due to isolation rules.

The Health Secretary announced on April 15: “I’m pleased to say that working with Public Health England, the care sector and many others, we are introducing new procedures so we can limit the risk of infection while wherever possible giving people’s closest loved ones the chance to say goodbye.”

He highlighted the tragic case of 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, whose death alone “made me weep”.

But while no-one could argue with the principle Mr Hancock was trying to achieve, it emerged these “new procedures” were largely not new rules on April 15. They were more of an order to obey rules already in place.

Both the care sector and hospitals had already been sent Covid-19 guidance saying visits should not take place – with an exception for people in “end-of-life care”.

But government sources admitted the guidance wasn’t being adhered to, forcing Mr Hancock to make a new statement.

The advice for hospitals had been issued on April 8. It said: “Visiting is suspended with immediate effect and until further notice. The only exceptional circumstances where one visitor – an immediate family member or carer – will be permitted to visit [include]: The patient you wish to visit is receiving end-of-life care.”

The guidance for care homes was issued on April 2. A new ‘action plan’ for care homes on April 15 simply reinforced the fact visits can be paid for end-of-life care.

5. The ‘first of thousands’ of new ventilators

On March 31, Michael Goveannounced “the first of thousands of new ventilator devices will roll off the production line” on the weekend, and “be delivered to the NHS next week.”

But while 15,000 of the Penlon ventilators were indeed ordered, Mr Gove did not clarify exactly how many would roll off the production line that week.

The next day, the government clarified the initial number was in fact in the region of 30.

Officials insisted “potentially hundreds” more could arrive in the weeks afterwards.

The Penlon devices were part of a ventilator “challenge” urging UK firms to produce hastily-designed breathing apparatus.

However, unlike orders for entirely new ventilators from firms like Dyson, the Penlon devices were a re-working of a design of ventilator already in use. As of April 17, it’s not known that any other models from the UK challenge have yet been approved for use.

6. 1,500 in a week – and more ventilator questions

Questioned on April 5, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there “should be another 1,500” ventilators in the next week.

A week later, Downing Street said the figure had been 200.

Supporters of the government would say the exact number doesn’t matter when, as of April 17, the government insists there is plenty of ventilator capacity in the NHS.

But there are more discrepancies in the numbers, and critics would say they raise questions over the overall strategy.

For example, Mr Hancock was originally hoping to raise the nation’s 5,000 ventilators to 30,000 – but revised the figure down to 18,000 after lockdown measures began working.

A few weeks ago, government officials told the Mirror there were 8,000 ventilators in place, 8,000 more ‘off-the-shelf’ models on order – and plus any from the UK challenge.

Yet on April 16, Downing Street said that while the number in place was now 10,000, just 2,000 were on order. Where did the other 4,000 on order go? We don’t know.

7. A badge for carers

Amid negative news stories about the government’s response on social care, Matt Hancock announced on April 15 a badge for care workers.

“This badge will be a badge of honour in a very real sense, allowing social care staff proudly and publicly to identify themselves, just like NHS staff do with that famous blue and white logo,” he said.

“I know that many businesses will want to offer the same recognition and benefits as they do wonderfully to the NHS.”

However, the offer sparked anger among unions and some care workers who said they were still waiting for vital kit.

It later emerged the ‘CARE’ badge had been launched a year earlier – and costs £1.20 to buy.

Employers can meet the cost for staff if they wish, but not right now. Because as of April 17, the badge’s website said: “Due to changing circumstances, the CARE badge CIC is not able to accept new orders at this time”.

READ MORE FROM SOURCE: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/7-government-coronavirus-pledges-werent-21884896