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Government coronavirus response ‘a disgrace’, claims councillor

By Mark Cardwell | Birmingham | News | Published:

The Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been a "disgrace" in some areas, a leading cabinet member has said.

Councillor Paulette Hamilton, cabinet member for health and social care. Photo: Birmingham City Council.

Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for health and social care, Councillor Paulette Hamilton, said the Government had been "shocking" in how it had dealt with PPE and care homes.

She also slammed the Government for its communication with councils during the crisis, claiming members of Birmingham City Council have often had to tune in to the daily 5pm briefing to find out what the latest advice is.

It comes after it was revealed that Birmingham had recorded more than 1,000 Covid-19-related deaths, with 771 of these taking place in hospitals and 158 in the city’s care homes.

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The national death toll now stands at more than 40,000, and Councillor Hamilton believes the figure would not be quite so high had the government response been better.

"PPE has been a nightmare," she said.

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"We have had not enough quantity, we haven’t had the right quality of PPE, we have had out-of-date PPE, and the government’s way of dealing with this has been shocking. And I’ll use that word and I’ll leave it there.

"Then I’d like to mention about care homes. Care homes is something that I’ve talked about continuously ever since this crisis began.

"I was always worried about care homes and I was worried about social care staff being absolutely ignored with testing, and with the support they were given.

"It has been a difficult time for care homes, and I wanted to highlight that, because we know that there have been issues nationally with 22,000 people dying in care homes, and I know that there will be questions being asked on this.

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"But as Birmingham City Council we have done everything humanly possible to support the system to ensure that our care homes have had the support that they need.

"And regarding the testing, I absolutely and utterly think it was a disgrace when the government decided to stop community testing on March 16.

"They absolutely tied the hands of everybody in the sector, because they said no community testing.

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"What that meant was people were coming out of hospital, they weren’t being tested, so they were going back into the homes with Covid-19, at the time people didn’t realise what the outcome would be. But surely to god if you’d thought through your plans, you would have seen that this was going to be a problem. I’m not jumping on the bandwagon, I’m saying it as it is – this was a massive mistake.

"The WHO had said back in January test test test, track and isolate. If you don’t know what to do test test and test again, then track and isolate.

"They chose not to do that, and there have been some key opportunities where if they had done that it wouldn’t have meant that we are now the second highest death rate in the world.

"What I think one of the problems was, they just didn’t talk to us.

"As a local government we know what we’re doing, and most nights we’d have to go on to the 5 o’clock programmes to actually hear what we had to implement.

"And then it wasn’t until things started to go wrong that it got thrown back to us. As testing looks as if it will be now, some parts of it.

"But the issue is they didn't listen to local government, and we’re the ones with our ears to the ground, we know what’s going on out there, and we know where to out our resources quite quickly."

Councillor Hamilton was also critical of the support given to care workers throughout the crisis, saying they had been treated like ‘second class citizens’ by the government.

However, while accepting that mistakes had probably been made, Councillor Pete Fowler, said he did not believe this was the time to be pointing the finger.

"I’m sure there’s been mistakes made, I’m sure there has been," he said.

"It doesn’t matter who was in power – there have been errors made. But there’s a lesson learned. These are unprecedented times, and I think that government ministers, staff, have been working probably 24/7.

"And you mentioned about the PPE, and we do know that this is a global situation. Every country that we know has been screaming out and trying to get PPE.

"So I think yes, there’s probably going to be things that we could have done better, there will be an enquiry into the Covid, and there will be a situation where we’re looking at what lessons have been learnt, what could have been better.

"But I don’t think now is the time to be bombarding, and using political points to attack the government. It is a situation that we’re all going through.

"We’re all working on this together, both locally and nationally. And I’m sure there have been mistakes – we’re all human."

Mark Cardwell

By Mark Cardwell
Reporter - @mlrcardwell

Local Democracy Reporter covering Birmingham.

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