Boris Johnson is under fire after appearing to blame care home owners for the huge death toll from coronavirus in their properties.

“We discovered too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have,” the prime minister claimed – after being asked about the reasons for almost 20,000 fatalities.

But Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Forum, said: “Care providers have moved to adopt these new procedures consistently, at pace and with integrity.”

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And Mike Padgham, head of the Independent Care Group (ICG), said: “We should not be getting into the blame game and it is wrong to criticise care and nursing homes at this time.”

More than half of care homes in England have been hit by Covid-19, according to official estimates, with one in five residents infected and 7 per cent of staff.

Anger has grown over the decision to discharge 25,000 hospital patients who had not been tested, fuelled by health secretary Matt Hancock’s notorious claim to have “thrown a protective ring” around them.

But, questioned in Goole, in East Yorkshire, the prime minister pointed to poor practices, saying: “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.”

Ms Rayner added: “Mr Johnson’s comments in relation to care homes’ following of procedures are neither accurate nor welcome.

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“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.”

She urged the prime minister to start “turning the dial up on reform and down on blame”.

And Mr Padgham said the vast majority of providers had “done their absolute best in the face of slow and conflicting advice”.

“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. In those circumstances, they have worked miracles,” he argued.

The fate of so many care home residents has also been blamed on the failure to provide enough personal protective equipment (PPE), with supplies requisitioned for the NHS.

It wasn’t until 15 April – almost a month after the lockdown began – that Mr Hancock finally promised to test all patients before they were admitted.

Ed Davey, the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, condemned the comments, saying Mr Johnson “should be ashamed”.

“He is 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,” he said.

Later, Downing Street insisted the prime minister had not blamed care homes for what happened.

“Throughout this crisis, care homes have done a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances,” a spokesperson said.

“The PM was pointing out that nobody knew what the correct procedures were because the extent of asymptomatic transmission was not known at the time.”

Mr Johnson’s comments came as he was asked about NHS England chief Simon Stevens’ call for plans to adequately fund adult social care sector to be published within a year.

Last July, as he entered Downing Street, the prime minister insisted he had a “clear plan to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve”.

But, in January, he admitted there was no ready-to-go rescue package, instead saying action would be taken to tackle the acknowledged crisis “in this parliament” – which will last until 2024.

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