The prominence of social care within the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) should ‘be enhanced’, a report into the UK’s initial response to the pandemic has said.
The report, Coronavirus: lessons learned to date, released today (12 October), said that social care had a ‘less prominent’ voice in the Government in the early stages of the pandemic compared to the NHS.
Compiled jointly by the Health and Social Care committee and the Science and Technology committee, the report assessed the UK’s initial response to the pandemic after hearing evidence from over 50 witnesses and 400 written submissions.
It found that there were ‘serious errors’ in the Government’s response and made 38 recommendations to better prepare the UK for the future.
Within social care in particular, it found multiple failings, including the discharge of elderly patients from hospitals into care homes without being tested and the spreading of infections by staff entering care homes.
The route of this, it suggested, was the ‘lack of knowledge and experience of social care within the department and senior levels of the NHS’.
MPs recommended that planning for future pandemics should have ‘a more developed and explicit consideration of the intense interaction between the NHS and social care’, and that the prominence of the sector in the DHSC should be enhanced.
‘It [the government] must ensure that there is parity between the health and care sectors so that social care is given proper priority in a future crisis,’ said the report.
‘Long term reform of social care is overdue and should be pursued as a matter of urgency.’
In September, MPs voted in favour of an increase to National Insurance to fund the NHS and social care, in a plan which the Prime Minister called ‘the biggest catch-up programme’ in UK history.
The report referenced this move but said: ‘We note that despite the Government’s recent announcement the level of new investment in social care from 2023/24 remains unclear.’
It added that this report was only an initial assessment of the handling of the pandemic and a public inquiry to examine the response in more detail should be launched ‘as soon as possible’.
Responding to the report, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said: ‘A lack of coherent national policy making to protect social care and care homes, the speed with which social distancing measures were adopted and later lifted by government, and the performance of the Test and Trace system, have all understandably come under criticism.
‘The consequences of those decisions have left a devastating legacy: over 150,000 deaths linked to Covid-19 across the UK with a tragic and disproportionate impact on health and care staff from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and the exposure of deep social, economic and health inequalities for Black, Asian and minority communities, which will take years to address.’
However, the report did praise the UK’s Covid vaccination programme, which it said was one of the ‘most effective initiatives in UK history’.
A Government spokesperson said: ‘Throughout the pandemic we have been guided by scientific and medical experts and we never shied away from taking quick and decisive action to save lives and protect our NHS, including introducing restrictions and lockdowns.
‘Thanks to a collective national effort, we avoided NHS services becoming overwhelmed and our phenomenal vaccination programme has built a wall of defence, with over 24.3 million infections prevented and more than 130,000 lives saved so far.
‘As the Prime Minister has said, we are committed to learning lessons from the pandemic and have committed to holding a full public inquiry in Spring.’