By guest blogger JEF?SMITH
Only the dishonest, the ultra-loyal or the deliberately blind can now deny that our government has made some serious errors in the handling of the coronavirus crisis. The initially wrong advice on physical distancing, the delay in the shut-down, the continuing shortage of protective equipment, the gap between promises and performance on testing for staff, patients and residents – on all of these, mistakes occurred, and on all of them it is the consumers of social care who have suffered most.
But who holds those in authority to account? Constitutionally, this is a task for Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, but the Labour Party has been hobbled, initially by its own lack of authoritative leadership and latterly by the absence of Parliamentary sittings. The new leader Keir Starmer and the shadow health secretary John Ashworth have attempted to fill this gap, but the toughest public questioning of the secretary of state for health and (by the way also) social care has come ironically from his fellow Conservative and predecessor in the post, Jeremy Hunt, whose health select committee has managed to continue to hold sessions.
The sections of the press not umbilically linked to the Conservative Party have also become increasingly assertive. Acute journalists have progressively attacked Mr Hancock’s bluster, exposing not only the many twists of DHSC policy and the continuing evasions of responsibility, but also the Government’s blindness, over a decade and more, to the weakness of the NHS and the absence of planning in the face of the known risk of pandemic, and the well documented failure to tackle social care’s glaring structural, staffing and resource problems. No-one has said sorry for any of these crimes.
And then there are the experts, suddenly back in fashion after years of being abused when their advice contradicted political orthodoxy. The Government’s faux-innocent claim to ‘follow the science’ is of course a sham. Coronavirus presents so many new issues that there is no such thing as incontrovertible truth, and it is the – admittedly unenviable – task of ministers to make judgements about sometimes apparently contradictory facts. But again, what place has social care expertise had in decision taking? Industry leaders have struggled to be heard, in either Whitehall or the media, over the insistent preoccupation with the NHS.
There is one other factor at work weakening the fibre of opposition to the government’s fumbling handling of this crisis; that is the fear of seeming to be disloyal. Now with the storm still raging, we are repeatedly warned, is not the time to rock the ship; all of these issues will be looked at in a thorough investigation sometime in the future. But if we had waited to learn the lessons of Dunkirk until hostilities had ended, we would have lost the war. The time to look at the mistakes the government has made and is still making is now, while there is time to change direction. The lives of many people receiving social care, as well as others in the health care system, is as stake. If that embarrasses some of those responsible, so be it.
- The CT Blog is written in a personal capacity – comments and opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed or supported by Caring Times.