Boris Johnson is said to have blasted Matt Hancock in a sweary rant last year after thousands of elderly residents were sent to care homes without a Covid test.
The Prime Minister flew into a rage at his Health Secretary and shouted “what a f***ing mess” as the scale of the crisis became clear, The Sun on Sunday reported.
Another source told the Sunday Times the PM “blew his stack” in the meeting on May 4, whose existence was revealed by former aide Dominic Cummings.
“Hancock had promised him in March that he would solve the problem,” the source said. “He was absolutely furious and wanted to know why the situation in care homes had become such a f***ing mess.”
A close ally of the Health Secretary told the Mirror they did not personally remember the meeting.
And Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi today claimed “hindsight is a wonderful thing”.
But documents written at the time show the scale of the failure last year – and suggest ministers were warned explicitly at the time.
The government issued a 45-page guide on March 19 to discharging patients from hospital – in a bid to free up 15,000 beds in one week to deal with a Covid wave.
Yet the guide had no orders to test them for Covid. Instead it simply said: “Where applicable to the patient, COVID-19 test results are included in documentation that accompanies the person on discharge.”
And it added: “The default assumption will be discharge home today.”
Routine Covid tests for hospital patients going into care homes only began on April 15, despite pleas at the time.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times revealed Matt Hancock was sent an e-mail on March 26 begging for routine tests.
Lisa Lenton, then-chair of the Care Provider Alliance, is said to have warned managers were “terrified” that the lack of testing was causing “outbreaks” in care homes.
She wrote: ”The following action MUST be taken: All people discharged from hospital to social care settings (eg care homes, home care, supported living) MUST be tested before discharge.”
It was already common knowledge that hospital patients were not routinely tested before entering care homes in a crucial month from mid-March to mid-April.
But the row exploded this week after Dominic Cummings claimed Mr Hancock “lied” about the issue – pledging that it would be sorted in March, only for it not to happen.
Mr Hancock last week insisted his “recollection” was that he only promised to start the tests “when we could do it”.
That left damning questions over why he allowed thousands of care home residents to be moved anyway.
Asked why they were allowed to flood into care homes, Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi told the BBC: “Hindsight is a wonderful thing”.
He said “in the eye of the storm we were only capable of doing about 2,000 tests a day”, a figure that is now around one million.
“We can sit here and argue the toss about asymptomatic transmission and when we really knew about that,” he added.
Mr Zahawi pledged “I hear you and we will learn those lessons”, and “we’re going to have an inquiry” into what went wrong in the pandemic.
But he also insisted the government “absolutely” threw a “protective ring” around care homes – something Mr Cummings has branded “nonsense”.
Mike Padgham. Chair of the Independent Care Group, told Sky News: “I don’t believe myself there was a ring of protection thrown round us, in those very early days it was difficult. We were forgotten, we’ve been forgotten over decades.
“We weren’t prepared, we weren’t ready, we didn’t have the PPE, we didn’t have the testing. and it took the government many many weeks to actually see what was happening in homes.”
Last week a Public Health England study found 97 out of 5,882 care home outbreaks in England were “due to hospital associated seeding”.
It said ‘seeded’ outbreaks spread to involve 804 care home residents – and a heartbreaking 286 deaths.
The report was only slipped online on Thursday, hours after Dominic Cummings ’ damning testimony about care homes – despite appearing to have been written months ago.
It covered data to 12 October 2020, and said in its conclusion that the data “should be re-assessed in November and December”.
The National Care Forum has dismissed the “partial data” in the study because it happened while Covid tests were scarce.
“We do not and probably will never know, the extent of the damage that the practice of discharge without testing delivered,” the organisation added.