In response to today’s daily briefing given by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Dr Rhidian Hughes, Chief Executive of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG), said:
“While it was welcome to hear Matt Hancock outline the steps being taken by the government to support care homes through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it is dismaying that the government’s response continues to overlook social care in its entirety – particularly the needs, rights and entitlements of disabled people. The government must recognise that the social care sector supports many different people to maintain independence in their own communities. Disabled people, and the services that support them, including care homes that support working age disabled people, warrant the same focus and attention from central government.
“Just yesterday (15 May), we learnt that in the six weeks between 10 April – 8 May, 451 people with learning disabilities and / or autism – 75 per week – died of COVID-19. People with learning disabilities and/or autism already face significant health inequalities and we are two months into the pandemic and the government’s response still has not adequately acknowledged the needs of this group of people.
“Matt Hancock said today that ‘People who live in care homes are among our most vulnerable citizens’, yet without the lobbying of organisations such as VODG and others from across the disability sector we have to question whether the government will ever come to recognise all vulnerable groups of people within our society.
“Government must shift its response away from institutions to putting people who rely on care services at the centre of its approach. That includes providing the same access to testing, PPE and funding. We cannot continue to have a situation whereby disability services are overlooked and neglected from government’s policy responses.”
A new £600 million Infection Control Fund has been introduced to tackle the spread of Covid-19 in care homes in addition to £3.2 billion of financial support made available to local authorities to support key public services since the start of the crisis.
The Fund, which is ring fenced for social care, will be given to local authorities to ensure care homes can continue to halt the spread of coronavirus by helping them cover the costs of implementing measures to reduce transmission.
Care homes will be asked to restrict permanent and agency staff to working in only one care home wherever possible. The funding could be used to meet the additional costs of restricting staff to work in one care home and pay the wages of those self-isolating.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said:
“This £600 million Infection Control Fund will help as we continue to reduce infections in care homes and save lives.
“From the very start of this outbreak, we have been working to protect our brilliant social care workforce and the most vulnerable in our society.
“Our package sets out clearly the extra steps local councils and care homes should be taking as we stamp out the spread of this virus.”
In further measures announced today:
- All local authorities must conduct a daily review of care homes in their area to ensure care homes have the support they need with staffing, help with accessing PPE and other areas of operation.
- The NHS will ensure that each care home has a named clinical contact to provide better access to clinical advice through weekly check-ins to review their patients, and offer direct support for staff with use of equipment and medication.
- A wellbeing package for social care staff is also being rolled out today on the new CARE app including two new helplines, led by the Samaritans and Hospice UK. This will help support care staff with their mental health and wellbeing and support those who have experienced a traumatic death as part of their work or help with anxiety and stress.
Minister for Care, Helen Whately said:
“Our care homes, and those working tirelessly to look after our loved ones are at the heart of our fight against this invisible enemy, which is why we’re doing everything we can to make sure the sector has all the support it needs to stop the spread and save lives.
“Our support package introduces stronger measures on infection control and steps up clinical support to make sure there is a clinical lead assigned to every care home right across the country to offer advice and quicker support. This is an important set of measures to support care homes and their staff – to continue to do wonderful work caring for people, even at this most difficult of times.”
Local Government Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said:
“We have already provided councils with over £3.2 billion during this pandemic so that they can respond to the immediate pressures they are facing, including supporting social care.
“This new funding will be distributed to councils based on the number of care home beds in their area and will be passed on quickly to care providers. It will fund new measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus in care homes, minimise infection, keep staff and residents safe and, ultimately, save lives.”
Samaritans, working with NHS England, have extended the use of their helpline to all social care workers. Social care staff will be able to speak to a trained Samaritans advisor who will provide a non-judgmental listening ear, safe space to offload and signposting to other services.
Hospice UK will also extend their bereavement and trauma support hotline to people working in social care, with specialist counsellors available to support staff who have experienced trauma, stress or anxiety through their work. Mental health and wellbeing guidance for the adult social care workforce was recently published on the app to support staff and employers through the outbreak.
All symptomatic and asymptomatic care home staff and residents in England are already eligible for testing, and testing is prioritised for care homes that look after the over 65s and the new digital portal now enables care homes to register for the delivery and collection of test kits directly.
Today’s announcement also aims to further boost the social care workforce and work has begun to attract thousands more people into social care over the next three months through the new national social care recruitment campaign.
NHS support will see nurse returners being deployed to care homes through the Bringing Back Staff programme, as well providing infection control nurses to lead a “train the trainers” approach for care homes available to every area in England. This includes advice about the recommended approach to Infection Prevention Control, Personal Protection Equipment usage and testing advice. This programme commenced at the beginning of May with the offer available to every area in England.
Ruth Sutherland, Samaritans CEO:
“We are so pleased that we can offer support to even more key workers who are doing such critical work on the frontline. Our volunteers are ready and waiting to provide a non-judgemental listening ear and a safe space to offload, at a time when we know so many are under huge emotional strain. All calls are completely confidential and answered by trained volunteers who will talk for as long as people want to, whilst also offering information about other sources of support that could be helpful.”
Paul Johnstone, Deputy SRO for PHE Covid-19 Response at Public Health England, said:
“We are delighted that the social care sector will get even more support in the form of the Social Care Fund, based on PHE research and emerging evidence from the World Health Organisation. We are confident that these interventions will help to further reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and keep our care home residents and workers safe.
“The excellent work carried out by Directors of Public Health and PHE’s Health Protection Teams has already made a huge difference to the local response to COVID-19. We will continue working with NHS England and DHSC to provide advice and support to the sector.”
Tracey Bleakley, CEO, Hospice UK said:
“We welcome the commitment the government is making to ensure that the care workforce is to benefit from bereavement and trauma support. These dedicated, frontline health professionals face very difficult situations dealing with COVID-19 which can take a toll on their mental health and wellbeing. This is why Hospice UK is so pleased to be able to extend our services to those in social care.”
The Independent Care Group responded:
Care providers have given a guarded welcome to today’s promise of extra help for care and nursing homes in the battle against coronavirus (Covid-19).
The Independent Care Group (ICG) has welcomed Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s promised support announced at today’s coronavirus briefing.
But it has warned that such promises have been made before and not delivered.
Mr Hancock outlined three steps to support care and nursing homes during the pandemic, promising to “do everything possible to protect them as long as they are threatened by this virus”.
The three measures were:
•Every resident and member of staff to be tested for Covid-19 by early June whether they have symptoms or not
•A named clinical lead in every care and nursing home in England
•Liaison with local authorities and sharing of data on coronavirus cases.
Care homes are also to be asked to restrict permanent and agency staff to working in only one care home wherever possible.
The promises came as ONS figures showed that between March 2 and May 1, 12,526 care and nursing home residents died after catching the virus.
ICG Chair Mike Padgham said: “We welcome today’s promises by the Government and its resolve to do everything possible to help care and nursing homes.
“However, we have had big promises made before and they have not materialised on the front line. We must wait to see if the Government delivers this time – our patience is running out and providers are struggling.
“It is gratifying that the Government is now waking up to what we have been saying for many years, that NHS and social care need to come together now and in the future.
“What we need most of all is to ensure that we can get the testing done, that we can get access to PPE and that we get some financial support to care and nursing homes who are struggling to survive whilst battling Covid-19.
“Reduced income from admissions combined with spiralling staffing and PPE costs is pushing many towards the edge of survival. Many were already running on very tight margins during the ongoing social care funding crisis. It is vital that they get financial support now to avoid the very real risk of providers going under at this critical time.
“Whilst today’s measures are welcome, a lot more needs to be done and we need support for all social care providers – including care and nursing homes, those providing care in people’s own homes through homecare, day care and supported living – to be stepped up.
“We need to ensure all vulnerable people are protected.”
Elsewhere, the ICG today welcomed a promise from a local authority that 100% of its share of extra funding to support care and nursing homes would go to the front line.
North Yorkshire County Council has promised that its share of the £600m extra money pledged to support social care will get to providers.
Mr Padgham added: “We are very grateful to North Yorkshire County Council for promising that all the extra money they get from this £600m will get to care and nursing homes in North Yorkshire. We hope that other local authorities will follow suit with a similar pledge.”