'Serious mistakes' have been made on coronavirus and ministers must be 'held accountable', says Keir Starmer

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers

Sir Keir Starmer believes the government has made "serious mistakes" in its response to coronavirus and wants ministers to be "held accountable", his spokesman has said.

Speaking after PMQs, the spokesman said Sir Keir was resisting calls for an independent inquiry into the handling of the crisis, saying the "priority" must be that the government "fixes the current mistakes it is making".

In his first PMQs at Labour leader, Sir Keir told the House of Commons that a "pattern is emerging", with the government apparently "slow into lockdown, slow on testing, slow on protective equipment".

He gave First Secretary Dominic Raab what many described as "forensic" questioning over the UK's testing capacity, its target, and the struggle for care workers to get tested.

Mr Raab is deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who watched PMQs from Chequers, where he is recovering from coronavirus, his spokesman said.

Sir Keir asked, with the government claiming Covid-19 test capacity was at 40,000 per day, why just 18,665 had been carried out.

"We have been very slow" on testing, the Labour MP said, adding: "We’re way behind other European countries".

He also pointed to the government's target of 100,000 tests per day by the end of April and asked "what does the secretary of state expect to happen in the next eight days?" in order to reach the target.

Mr Raab agreed the UK was way off its target, but said a "project like this does require an exponential increase in the final days and final week of the programme".

He suggested the reason so few tests had been carried out compared to the capacity was because demand needed to be "increased".

Health Secretary Matt Hancock agreed with Mr Raab, saying in a statement to the Commons following PMQs, that demand from NHS workers for tests had been "lower than was anticipated".

Sir Keir said there was sufficient demand for tests among health care professionals but there was an “obvious problem” with the plan.

He said many workers are being asked to drive "many miles" to drive-thru testing sites, but "not all care workers will have access to a car".

He went on: "Because they’ve got symptoms or family members have got symptoms they obviously can’t use public transport, so it is little wonder we’re seeing these pictures of half-empty testing centres."

Both Mr Raab and Mr Starmer were taking part in a "hybrid parliament" - set up to allow for social distancing - with up to 50 MPs in the chamber and up to 120 tuning in via Zoom video.

A number of large screens have been installed so MPs attending remotely can be seen and heard by those in the chamber.

Referring back to care and NHS workers, Sir Keir claimed they are "not getting the equipment they need".

He said PPE is "crucial to those at risk on the frontline who are risking their lives to save ours and the least they deserve is the right protective equipment".

"The government plan is clearly not working, so can I ask [Mr Raab] to tell frontline workers at risk when will they finally get the equipment they need to keep them safe?”

Sir Keir also asked about reports of dozens of manufacturers offering to produce PPE but being turned down or receiving delayed responses.

Mr Raab said "one billion items of personal protective equipment" have been delivered since the outbreak began and "tens of millions have been distributed via the devolved administrations".

He went on: “I don’t accept his premise that we’ve been slow.

"We have been guided by the scientific advice, the chief scientific adviser, the chief medical officer, at every step along this way.

“If he thinks he knows better than they do with the benefit of hindsight, then that’s his decision, but that is not the way we have proceeded and it is not the way we will in the future.”

He added: “8,000 businesses have offered PPE in response to the Government’s call and every business receives a response.”

Following PMQs, a number of opposition MPs questioned why the government had no estimate on how many social care workers had died of coronavirus.

When asked about deaths in the care sector, Mr Raab replied: “On the latest figures, my understanding is that 69 people have died within the NHS of coronavirus.

"I don’t have the precise figure for care homes, they’re more difficult to establish in relation to care home workers as opposed to care home residents.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the "neglect" of care workers is "upsetting" - "he doesn’t even know how many care staff have died," she said in a tweet.

Health Secretary Mr Hancock said 15 social care staff have died during the coronavirus outbreak.