Boris Johnson has been urged to apologise after he angered care home bosses by claiming “too many” in the sector “didn’t really follow the procedures” during the coronavirus crisis.
During a visit to Goole, Yorkshire, on Monday, the prime minister was asked about comments from NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens – who wants to see plans to adequately fund the adult social care sector within a year.
Mr Johnson replied: “One of the things the crisis has shown is we need to think about how we organise our social care package better and how we make sure we look after people better who are in social care.
“We discovered too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have but we’re learning lessons the whole time.
“Most important is to fund them properly… but we will also be looking at ways to make sure the care sector long term is properly organised and supported.”
The prime minister’s remarks prompted anger from care bosses, with Mr Johnson told to avoid a “blame game” over the impact of COVID-19 in care homes.
Nadra Ahmed, the chair of the National Care Association, told Sky News: “I’m absolutely stunned the prime minister thought it was appropriate for him to make that comment and I think he should retract that comment and apologise.
“This sector has looked after some of the most vulnerable people through this pandemic.
“And they’ve done it not having been shielded as a sector, but being left to deal with it in their own way whilst all the attention was put on the NHS.
“Even the funds that were released have not reached the frontline because of the way they put it out.”
Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Forum, which represents 120 of the UK’s social care charities, welcomed the prime minister’s recognition of the need for proper funding.
But she added: “Mr Johnson’s comments in relation to care homes’ following of procedures are neither accurate nor welcome.
“Government guidance has come to the sector in stops and starts – with organisations grappling with over 100 pieces of additional guidance in the same number of days, much of which was not accompanied by an understanding of the operational implications of operating care services.
“Care providers have moved to adopt these new procedures consistently, at pace and with integrity.”
She added that the prime minister must start “turning the dial up on reform and down on blame”.
Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group, said: “We should not be getting into the blame game and it is wrong to criticise care and nursing homes at this time.
“It is worth remembering that in February, the government agency Public Health England told homes it was ‘very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home will become infected’ and that homes didn’t need to do anything differently.
“It was many weeks later, after most homes had already put themselves into lockdown, that the advice changed.”
Mr Padgham, whose organisation represents independent care providers in York and North Yorkshire, added: “For far too much of this pandemic, providers were operating in the dark over what they ought to do and with one arm behind their backs in terms of the support they were given.”
Sam Monaghan, chief executive of charitable care provider MHA, said it was “unclear what the evidence is” for Mr Johnson’s claim.
“What is clear is that a public inquiry needs to be expedited and the prime minister’s comments imply that he feels the same,” he added.
Liz Kendall, Labour’s shadow social care minister, said: “There have been 30,000 excess deaths in care homes and at least 20,000 of these caused by COVID-19.
“25,000 elderly people were discharged from hospitals to care homes without any tests whatsoever and frontline care workers were left without vital PPE.
“Staff who have gone the extra mile to care for elderly people, and experienced things the rest of us can only imagine, will be appalled to hear the prime minister’s comments.
“Boris Johnson should be taking responsibility for his actions and fixing the crisis in social care, not blaming care homes for this government’s mistakes.”
Acting Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey accused the prime minister of “trying to shift the blame to those who risked their lives caring for our loved ones, ignoring the facts that they had to accept patients from hospital without tests and weren’t allowed proper PPE for weeks”.
A Number 10 spokesperson said: “Throughout this crisis care homes have done a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances.
“The prime minister was pointing out that nobody knew what the correct procedures were because the extent of asymptomatic transmission was not known at the time.”
In their 2019 general election manifesto, the Conservatives pledged to find a cross-party solution to reduce pressures on the care sector and provide long-term funding.
They promised to begin those talks within 100 days of the December election, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock having written to all MPs in early March to hear their views.