Boris Johnson has been criticised for saying “too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures” during the coronavirus outbreak.
The PM was responding to the head of NHS England’s call for reform in social care within a year.
Mr Johnson said it was “important to fund” the sector, but it needed to be “properly organised and supported”.
The National Care Forum said his remarks were “frankly hugely insulting” to care workers.
Vic Rayner, executive director of the forum which represents 120 social care charities, told BBC Newsnight that care homes followed the guidance “to the letter” but the government’s attention was focused on hospitals.
“There will be a lot of people within the care sector who feel that their efforts have gone unrecognised and who I think will feel rightly aggrieved that all the hard work and enormous effort they’ve put in hasn’t been acknowledged,” she said.
Shadow care minister Liz Kendall said “terrified” staff had been “told by the prime minister that it’s their fault”.
She told the BBC that care workers had been “abandoned” by the government, adding: “This attempt to shift responsibility is a new low.”
Care homes have been at the centre of the coronavirus crisis in the UK.
Almost 30,000 more care home residents in England and Wales died during the outbreak than during the same period in 2019 – with two-thirds of those deaths attributed to the virus.
Responding to the criticism, a No 10 spokesman said care homes had “done a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances”.
He added: “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.”
NHS England head Sir Simon Stevens told the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday that coronavirus had shone a “very harsh spotlight” on the “resilience” of the care system.
He said the government needed to “decisively answer” how high quality care could be provided long-term, and make that plan within a year.
Asked about the comments, Mr Johnson said: “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.”