For far too long, the social care sector has not been recognised for the vital contribution it makes to our society. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has shone a bright light on the valuable work that social care workers and their organisations carry out across the country to support people in vulnerable circumstances each and every day. As a result, today, now more than ever the country recognises the importance of social care in caring for people and for helping people to live independent lives. And while this is an incredibly sad and difficult time for the country, as care services lead the way and respond to the challenges brought about by the pandemic, we are also afforded an opportunity to raise the status of those working in the sector and the thousands of services supporting older and disabled people.
VODG today welcomes the government’s efforts to produce an action plan for the sector, but believes the strategy lacks detail on delivery. We need policymakers to grasp the very real, very live challenges the sector is facing while also making an investment to lay the foundations for a stronger sector once the pandemic is over. Instead, today’s publication provides a canter through the government’s reactions thus far when what the sector needs is a clear plan that instils confidence among social care providers coupled with a meaningful commitment of financial investment in a sustainable future.
In specific reference to today’s strategy, VODG raises the following points:
Controlling the spread of infections in care settings
It is scandalous that social care has consistently been at the end of the queue when it comes to accessing personal protective equipment (PPE) vital to protect people who use services and the workforce. Furthermore, current guidance around personal protection equipment is confused and implementation lacks engagement with the sector. As a key infrastructure body in the sector, we are hearing first-hand how providers find the guidance inconsistent and difficult to interpret. This is having a direct impact on organisations’ ability to ensure proper use of PPE.
News that all social care staff who need a test will now have access to one is welcome of course, but it also comes too late given the face-to-face support social care workers have been providing to people since this pandemic broke. Furthermore, the success of this decision relies on testing facilities being accessible for all workers, across all services, across the country, and that is much broader than those regulated by the Care Quality Commission.
Supporting the workforce
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has shone a bright light on the work that social care workers and organisations carry out to support people across the country each and every day. The pandemic hit a social care sector that was already struggling with high turnover and vacancy rates and significant recruitment challenges.
It is reassuring that today’s strategy includes a strong focus on supporting the social care workforce – but it could go further. There is, for example, an emphasis on appreciation, but no mention of pay, which we already know is a significant factor in the retention and recruitment of staff.
VODG would also welcome further focus on an indemnity solution for social care, just like the NHS has received.
Supporting independence, supporting people at the end of their lives and responding to individuals needs
Equality and human rights must be upheld as our country responds to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It is encouraging that in today’s strategy the government notes that blanket bans to treatment, collective do not resuscitate orders are unacceptable. VODG believes the only criterion that should be applied to critical care decision-making is the likelihood that someone will recover and return to a good quality of life. VODG would like to see the government go further and explicitly deny any approaches that see groups of people being deemed less eligible for healthcare based on age, disability and other protected characteristics.
Supporting local authorities and the providers of care
Years of sustained political failure to address the lack of funding for the social care sector means that the system was in an already extremely precarious position before the coronavirus outbreak. The Prime Minister told the country that the government would do ‘whatever it takes’ to respond to Coronavirus. However, the £1.6billion emergency funding granted to local authorities to help cover additional pressures created by the crisis is simply not enough to address the financial challenges faced by social care providers, particularly voluntary sector providers.
Voluntary sector providers of social care predominantly serve people who rely on the state to pay for their care and their expertise and good practice is essential in responding to the pandemic. However, VODG is aware that funding from the £1.6billion package to local authorities is still not reaching providers today. Now more than ever we need strong local leadership to work hand in hand with the voluntary sector to ensure people in some of the most vulnerable circumstances are best supported at this time of great need.