Health organisations have backed the Labour party’s call for the Government to publish a winter care home plan, amid fears there could be a repeat of the crisis seen during the peak of the pandemic.
In a letter to Matt Hancock, shadow social care minister Liz Kendall said the Government should detail action it has taken to ensure adequate PPE stocks, urgently roll out ‘regular and swift testing’ to care homes, and increase long-term funding for the sector.
It followed a bulletin from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) that confirmed a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in care homes.
In response to Ms Kendall’s letter, Niall Dickson, NHS Confederation chief executive, said details on how the Government will support the sector have so far been ‘lacking’, urging the Government to ‘act now to put this right’.
He said: ‘Measures we would like to see include free PPE for all care suppliers, guaranteed testing for both service users and employees, adequate funding to stabilise the sector and a workforce plan to be introduced along similar lines to the recently published NHS People Plan to support those who work within social care.’
Christina McAnea, UNISON assistant general secretary, said: ‘A firm plan must be put in place to protect care homes. There are deep concerns the pledge of regular testing isn’t being delivered. It feels like the Government is sleepwalking into another care home catastrophe.’
She added that the infection control money, which ensures staff who need to isolate are still paid full wages, is not being used by all employers, and is therefore punishing staff for taking precautions if they have symptoms.
Using the fund should be made ‘mandatory’ for employers in this situation, she said.
In the letter to the health secretary, Ms Kendall said an approaching winter and flu season have made it ‘vital’ for the Government to now put in place a plan to support the sector.
She added that ministers must also ‘learn the lessons from mistakes that have been made so far, and show users, families and staff that social care will be a top priority in the months ahead’.
This includes the ‘shambolic handling’ of testing for care home staff, which was significantly delayed despite being promised by 6 July, Ms Kendall said, and the PPE shortages seen earlier in the pandemic.
She added that ‘it [was] beggars belief’ that ‘with CQC inspections rightly restarting, there is no commitment to testing CQC inspectors to stop the very people who are supposed to be helping guarantee the quality of care themselves potentially spreading the virus between care homes’.
The letter to Mr Hancock also called for ‘an immediate cash injection’ for social care services, as well as a ‘long-term plan for reform’.
It said: ‘This issue cannot be kicked into the long grass any longer and I urge you to publish a plan for the future funding and provision of social care by the end of the year, as the Prime Minister promised in January’.
Testing and PPE
According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, there were 66,112 deaths of care home residents between 2 March and 12 June and of these, 19,394 involved Covid-19 – almost 30%.
In a separate letter sent to care providers last Friday (11 September), Stuart Miller, director of Adult Social Care Delivery at DHSC, said that care homes have recently been experiencing a rise in confirmed Covid cases, and that while infections are ‘mainly affecting the workforce’, some residents have also been infected.
He recognised the delay in testing for care staff and said tests ‘have now been delivered to all care homes for older people who registered for regular testing and the portal is now also open for care homes for working age adults to register for repeat testing’.
He added there are currently ‘no significant backlog’ for the delivery of results.
Commenting on the calls for a winter plan, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Throughout our coronavirus response we have been doing everything we can to ensure all staff and residents in care homes are protected.
‘We are testing all residents and staff, have provided 208 million items of PPE and ring-fenced £600 million to prevent infections in care homes, with a further £3.7 billion available to councils to address pressures caused by the pandemic, including in adult social care.’
They added: ‘The adult social care winter plan will be published shortly to ensure we have robust plans in place for the additional pressures we may face this winter, and to protect both the people who need care and the workforce that supports them.’