In his weekly exchange with Labour leader Keir Starmer, Boris Johnson told the House of Commons that: “The reality is that already 125,000 care home staff have been tested, 118,000—perhaps he didn’t know that Mr Speaker—118,000 care home workers have been tested and we are absolutely confident that we will be able to increase our testing, not just in care homes but across the whole of the community.”
The Department of Health and Social Care later corrected the Prime Minister's words, when challenged by fact-checking organisation Full Fact, saying that “nearly 125,000 staff in care settings [our emphasis] and over 118,000 care home residents [our emphasis] have been tested.” The term “care settings” includes staff in all care settings and not just care homes.
Furthermore, new transparency data, released on 16th July 2020, included a section that specifically addressed the claims made by Mr Johnson about the testing in care homes. This showed that the figure of 125,000 (or, to be precise, 124,906) care home workers relates to the number of tests done, rather than the number of people tested.
This is an important distinction, because we know that people often receive more than one test, and so it is very likely that the actual number of people tested at this point was considerably lower than 125,000.
The government’s own testing methodology notes: “For clinical reasons, some people are tested more than once. Therefore, the number of tests will be higher than the number of people tested.”
In this exchange with Sir Keir Starmer there were three errors, the first of which seems to have been a genuine mistake i.e. the claim that “118,000 care home workers had been tested”. According to the Department of Health and Social Care, the Prime Minister was referring to care home residents and not care home workers.
Boris Johnson’s second error was less innocent. He said that “125,000 care home staff had been tested.” This was misleading for a different reason. People often receive more than one test, so it is likely that the actual number of people tested at this point was considerably lower than 125,000.
The third error was the prime minister’s claim that 125,000 “care home staff” had been tested. According to the Department of Health and Social Care he meant staff in “care settings” - a much wider category.
Inexcusably all three errors remain on the Commons record, in defiance of the Ministerial Code.