Boris Johnson has dismissed pleas to retain free hospital parking for all NHS staff after the Covid-19 pandemic.
The prime minister told Keir Starmer to “take his latest bandwagon and park it free somewhere else” when asked by the Labour leader to extend the policy.
Starmer had warned the decision to end free parking in all but certain circumstances once the pandemic begins to ease adds “further insult to injury” for NHS workers.
The Opposition leader also repeatedly pressed the prime minister to apologise for saying too many care homes do not follow the procedures as they could have, with Johnson failing to do so.
The Department of Health has said free parking will continue only for “key patient groups and NHS staff in certain circumstances” as the pandemic eases, although no further timeline has been given.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Starmer said: “To add further insult to injury there are reports this morning the government is to remove free hospital parking for NHS workers in England.
“The prime minister will know this could cost hundreds of pounds a month for our nurses, our doctors and our support staff.
“We owe our NHS workers so much. We all clap for them, we should be rewarding them, not making it more expensive to go to work. The prime minister must know this is wrong, will he reconsider and rule it out?”
Johnson replied: “The hospital car parks are free for NHS staff for this pandemic, they’re free now, and we’re going to get on with our manifesto commitment to make them free for patients who need them as well.
“The House will know that was never the case under Labour – neither for staff nor patients.
“May I suggest he takes his latest bandwagon and parks it free somewhere else.”
Earlier, Starmer told the Commons: “On Monday, when asked why care home deaths had been so high the prime minister said, and I quote, ‘too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have’.
“That has caused huge offence to frontline care workers. It has now been 48 hours. Will the prime minister apologise to care workers?”
Johnson replied: “The last thing I wanted to do is to blame care workers for what has happened or for any of them to think that I was blaming them because they’ve worked hard, incredibly hard, throughout this crisis, looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our country and doing an outstanding job.”
“And as he knows, tragically, 257 of them have lost their lives.
“And when it comes to taking blame, I take full responsibility for what has happened.”
Starmer said the PM’s answer was “not an apology and it just won’t wash” before adding: “I ask the prime minister again, will he apologise to care workers, yes or no?”
Johnson replied: “He keeps saying that I blamed or try to blame care workers and that is simply not the case. The reality is that we now know things about the way coronavirus is passed from person to person without symptoms that we just didn’t know.”
He added: “Perhaps captain hindsight would like to tell us whether he knew that it was being transmitted asymptomatically.”
Starmer countered: “By refusing to apologise the prime minister rubs salt into the wounds of the very people that he stood at his front door and clapped.
“The prime minister and the health secretary must be the only people left in the country who think they put a protective ring around care homes. Those on the front line know that wasn’t the case.”
Starmer later said more than 19,000 care home residents have died from Covid-19, adding: “Overall around one in 20 care home residents are estimated to have died from the virus. It’s chilling.
“These are extraordinary numbers but the prime minister has consistently ducked responsibility for this. Will he accept it isn’t care workers who are to blame, it’s his government?”
Johnson accused the Labour leader of reading out pre-prepared questions, adding: “I’ve made it clear this government takes responsibility for everything that we’ve done throughout this crisis.”
Starmer said the PM “continues to insult those on the frontline by not taking these issues seriously”, before adding “huge mistakes” have been made.
He went on: “The decision to discharge 25,000 people to care homes without tests was clearly a mistake. Will the prime minister simply accept his government was just too slow to act on care homes?”
Johnson said the understanding of the disease “changed dramatically” over recent months and defended the government’s action plan.
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