'False dichotomy': Cabinet minister rows back on admission NHS was prioritised over care homes on coronavirus testing

A senior minister has appeared to row back on claims the government had a "binary choice" on whether to prioritise the NHS over care homes with coronavirus testing, just hours after admitting the "choice" had been to focus on the NHS.

Robert Buckland told ITV News it was a "false dichotomy" to suggest a choice was made between the two, but in an earlier interview he said to Sky News ministers "needed to make a choice about testing and we did decide to focus upon the NHS".

Labour shadow care minister Liz Kendal says Mr Buckland's comments are "the clearest admission yet that ministers didn't give care homes the protection they needed".

The government is being heavily criticised over how care homes have been protected from Covid-19 during the crisis, with many believing elderly coronavirus patients were sent from hospitals back into care homes housing "clinically vulnerable" residents.

Government critics cite official hospital guidance from before April 15 which said "negative tests are not required prior to transfers/admissions into the care home".

At Tuesday evening's coronavirus press conference, Cabinet minister George Eustice admitted there may have been "some instances" where patients without symptoms were moved untested into care homes.

With at least 10,000 care home residents dying with coronavirus since the crisis began, some are claiming this policy was a contributing factor to the rising death toll.

The government has said almost four in ten Covid-19 deaths in England have occurred in care homes.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Buckland said: "We’ve seen a great tragedy in our care homes which is a matter of huge regret."

Asked on Sky News whether NHS had been put “first and foremost” at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, he said: “That’s right and I think that was absolutely essential.

“Now is not time to blame people.

"I think that would be wholly counterproductive."

However, when he spoke to ITV News later in the morning, Mr Buckland appeared to U-turn on this, saying it was not a binary choice.

But Labour's Ms Kendal said: "Social care and the NHS are equally important in the fight against the virus and are inextricably linked.

"One cannot be prioritised above the other."

Mr Buckland said he recognised there had been “far too many cases of infection and death” in care homes, but added: “I think every country in the world will look back and say there were things we could have done differently but I think now we’ve got to focus on the here and now.”

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