Downing Street has refused to apologise after Boris Johnson claimed “too many care homes” did not follow the correct procedures during the coronavirus pandemic.
Care home managers have reacted angrily to the prime minister’s comments, saying they followed government advice on protecting their patients and staff.
Nearly 20,000 people have died from coronavirus in care homes in England and Wales during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
On Tuesday, the prime minister’s official spokesman refused to apologise on behalf of Johnson, saying: “The PM thinks that throughout the pandemic care homes have done a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances.”
He added: “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.
Mark Adams, chief executive of the charity Community Integrated Care, said the prime minister’s comments were “clumsy and cowardly”.
He said while most people were in lockdown, 1.6 million “brave” social care workers were putting their own health and lives at risk by going to work to protect people’s children, parents and grandparents.
“To get the most senior man in the country turning round and blaming them on what has been an absolute travesty of leadership from the government, I just think it is appalling,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
Adams said the UK was entering an “alternative reality where the government set the rules, we follow them, they don’t like the results and they then deny setting the rules and blame the people that were trying to do their best”.
Johnson had said on Monday: “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.
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“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.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "It's despicable for Boris Johnson to blame incredible, dedicated care workers for his own government's failings.
“The prime minister should be ashamed, take responsibility and commit to proper, lasting reform of social care."
Deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said: "The prime minister's comments risk undermining the key role played during the pandemic by social care services, which in many places has been nothing short of heroic, and has doubtless saved many lives.”
Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Home Forum, told the BBC the suggestion that care home workers were not following procedures was “totally inappropriate” and “hugely insulting”.
She added: “Care homes across the country were dealing with an extraordinary amount of different guidance that was coming out from government on an almost daily basis.”
However, business secretary Alok Sharma defended the prime minister, saying he had been pointing out that no-one had known what the correct procedures were.
“The prime minister is certainly not blaming care homes,” Sharma told the Today programme.
“I think what he was actually pointing out is that nobody knew what the correct procedures were at the time because, quite frankly, we didn’t know what the extent of asymptomatic transmission was.”
Sharma praised the “really brilliant job” done by carers during the pandemic and recognised that they had carried out their work in “difficult circumstances”.
He told BBC Breakfast: "We have done our best to put our arms around the care home sector.”
But Adams said the care sector had been “crying out” for weekly testing for months.
“It is a question of the horse bolting and shutting the stable door,“ he said.
"I think what we're getting is history rewritten in front of us, when you could list pages and pages of government failure which the system has had to cope with.”
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