Tory health minister says government 'can stick coronavirus failures on scientists' before backtracking

A Tory health minister appeared to blame scientists for the government’s coronavirus care home failures during an interview on Tuesday before awkwardly backtracking.

Care minister Helen Whately attempted to defend the government’s policy of discharging elderly people from hospitals, often without coronavirus tests, in order to free up beds.

Whately told Sky News presenter Kay Burley, the government had “followed the scientific guidance” with its policies.

Burley said: “You take [scientists’] advice and then you make the policy, you can’t stick this on the scientists.

Care minister Helen Whately was attempting to defend the government's policies on Tuesday. (Getty)

The MP then appeard to stumble while answering as she responded: “But I can, because…”

Burley replied: “You can stick it on the scientists?”

Whately then replied: “No, no, no – that is not what I mean to say.”

Pressed on whether she had said the government could stick it on the scientists, Whately insisted that the statement was “your [Burley’s] words”.

“I said ‘You can’t stick this on the scientists’ and you said you can – I didn’t put those words in your mouth,” Burley continued.

Whatley responded: “What I mean to say is that we have taken the scientific advice at every stage of this process – we have taken the scientific advice and then judgment is made about what is the right decision to take.”

The government has drawn criticism for discharging elderly patients from hospitals to free up beds. (PA)

She continued: “We have been trying to do everything we can for those in care homes because we know that they are at greater risk.”

The government has previously defended its track record on care homes, with health secretary Matt Hancock insisting in the Commons last month that a "ring of protection" had been thrown around them from the very start of the crisis.

A Department of Health spokesman said previously: "We have been working tirelessly with the care sector to reduce transmission and save lives, and have based all our decisions on the latest scientific and clinical advice - as a result nearly two-thirds of care homes have had no outbreak at all."

Last month, work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey was also accused of trying to deflect criticism from government policy by laying the blame at scientists' door.

Speaking to Sky News on 19 May, she said: "If the science was wrong, advice at the time was wrong, I'm not surprised if people then think we made a wrong decision."

Coronavirus: what happened today

Read more about COVID-19

How to get a coronavirus test if you have symptoms
How easing of lockdown rules affects you
In pictures: How UK school classrooms could look in new normal
How public transport could look after lockdown
How our public spaces will change in the future

Help and advice

Read the full list of official FAQs here
10 tips from the NHS to help deal with anxiety
What to do if you think you have symptoms
How to get help if you've been furloughed