Labour sets out six key areas of action to tackle social care Covid-19 crisis

Labour has set out six key areas of action for the government to address in its effort to tackle the Covid-19 crisis in the social care sector, where staff have experienced shortages of equipment.

The opposition party’s six key areas are:

  1. A new intermediate care strategy for people being discharged from hospital who test positive for Covid-19, and to support struggling care homes;
  2. Improved access to, and priority testing for social care workers;
  3. Guaranteeing all care workers get the PPE they need: for domiciliary care workers and personal assistants employed via direct payments, as well as staff in residential care;
  4. Ensuring social care has “whatever resources it takes” to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic;
  5. New leadership for social care sector, with a new Chief Care Officer;
  6. Daily reporting of Covid-19 deaths outside hospital, including in care homes.

The call for action by new shadow social care minister Liz Kendall comes after new data showed one third of UK coronavirus deaths were in care homes in the week ending April 17th.

4,343 people in care homes died from Covid-19 within a fortnight, between April 10th and 24th, according to the official figures released this morning by the Office for National Statistics.

Commenting on the fresh statistics, Kendall said: “These new figures show the devastating impact Covid-19 is having on care homes, and will be desperately worrying for residents, their families, and staff.

“Urgent action is needed to get a grip of this problem. That is why I have today written to the Health Secretary outlining six areas where further steps should be taken to help protect care users and staff, and help bring these appalling death rates down.”

The daily death tolls announced every day by the government including only those who died with coronavirus in hospital, excluding Covid-19 deaths taking place in the community and in care homes.

There is a lag in the collection of data from outside hospitals because this information is based on registrations received by the statistical office, which arrive several days later later than the date of death.

Labour has called for a change in how deaths are reported, with Rachel Reeves urging the government to “count the deaths in care homes in the same way they’re counted in hospitals on a daily basis”.

Below is the full text of Liz Kendall’s letter sent to Matt Hancock today.

Dear Matt,

The statistics published today by the ONS and CQC provide yet more evidence of the appalling impact Covid-19 is having on people who use social care, especially in care homes. For families and care staff each one of these deaths is a heart-breaking reminder of how quickly the virus spreads amongst vulnerable elderly and disabled people.

We must ensure everything possible is done to protect people who use social care, and the staff who provide these vital services. It is within this context that I am writing to set out six areas where I believe further action is necessary to tackle Covid-19:

1. A new intermediate care strategy for people being discharged from hospital who test positive for Covid-19, and to support struggling care homes

2. Improved access to, and priority testing for social care workers

3. Guaranteeing all care workers get the PPE they need: for domiciliary care workers and Personal Assistants employed via Direct Payments, as well as staff in residential care

4. Ensuring social care has “whatever resources it takes” to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic

5. New leadership for social care sector, with a new Chief Care Officer

6. Daily reporting of Covid-19 deaths outside hospital, including in care homes.

First, I am glad that the new guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care issued on 16 April says everyone who is discharged from hospital prior to admission to a care home should now be tested for Covid-19. However, not all of those who test positive can be effectively isolated in care homes, and many providers are extremely worried about accepting Covid positive patients because of the risk this poses to other residents. We therefore need a new intermediate care strategy to ensure there are appropriate services to help slow the spread of the virus, both in terms of ‘step down’ from hospital and ‘step up’ from care homes who are struggling to cope. Whilst these services are being developed in some parts of the country, they now need much greater priority and focus. Plans should be jointly drawn up locally by councils and the NHS, using any spare NHS capacity – for example in NHS Nightingale hospitals – as well as other local services.

Second, further action is vital to improve access to, and ensure priority testing for, care workers. Care workers are looking after some of the most vulnerable people in society, who are at especially high risk from Covid-19. They are at the absolute frontline in fighting this pandemic. Yet too many care workers are still being asked to travel miles for their tests, which simply isn’t possible if they are sick or don’t have a car. In my own area, whilst there is a testing facility for NHS staff in Leicester, care workers are asked to travel to Beeston in order to get their test. This cannot continue. Studies suggest weekly testing all care staff, even when they don’t have symptoms would help bring transmission rates down. Delivering this means more local testing centres, including allowing care staff to use NHS testing facilities, more mobile testing units and a substantial increase in tests being sent directly to carers own homes, including for their families. We must ensure social care staff are a priority for Covid-19 testing.

Third, frontline care workers are still reporting serious and unacceptable difficulties in obtaining enough of the right type of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The Government must spell out what additional steps it will take to guarantee all care workers get the PPE they need, including home care workers, care home staff, and the 70,000 Personal Assistants currently employed via Direct Payments. I would also be grateful if you could explain why UK guidance on PPE in care homes is inconsistent with that of the World Health Organisation, for example in terms of the use of eye protection by staff, masks for residents, PPE for care home cleaners, and guidance on washing and disinfection.

Fourth, social care must get the funding it needs to meet all of the additional costs of Covid-19 and to bring stability to the fragile social care system. Last week I wrote to you outlining the serious concerns expressed to me by several national organisations about the financial stability of many residential and domiciliary care providers. Providers were already stretched before the Covid-19 Pandemic due to years of public underfunding of social care. They now face substantial additional costs for staffing (due to higher absence rates) and PPE at the same time as seeing a fall in their income, for example because of fewer new care home residents.

The Government has rightly said the NHS will get “whatever resources it needs”: the same must be true for social care. Care providers must be compensated for all the additional costs caused by Covid-19 and if necessary, the Government should consider giving this funding directly to care providers, as has been the case in countries like Ireland. With 70 per cent of unpaid family carers saying they are picking up even more care – an extra 10 hours on average a week – funding must also be provided to ensure proper support for carers, including respite breaks where necessary.

Fifth, this pandemic has thrown into sharper focus than ever before the differences in how the NHS and social care are treated. For too long social care has lacked the priority, focus and attention of the NHS, and care workers have been undervalued and underpaid. Longer term reform is, in my view, essential but as an immediate step I urge you to consider establishing a Chief Care Officer, to sit alongside the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Nursing Officer, to help provide the national leadership, focus and attention social care deserves throughout this pandemic and beyond.

Finally, I once again urge you to publish one clear daily set of Covid-19 death rate figures outside hospitals including deaths in care homes. For families and care staff, each and every death from Covid-19 counts. Accurate and timely reporting of deaths of people in care homes is also essential to helping us tackle the problem and save as many lives as possible.

I hope you will consider these suggestions in the positive and constructive spirit they are made. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours sincerely,

Liz Kendall
Shadow Minister for Social Care

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