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The Infection Control Fund: Bean counting in extremis

The first wave of the Infection Control Fund was introduced in May and provided a direct source of funding primarily to care homes to support the additional costs of minimising staff movement between and within services. This was a vital lifeline to many organisations, was allocated on a ‘per bed’ basis, delivered direct to care homes, administered and reported on in two chunks by local authorities and the funding came to an end on the 30th September.

The criteria for the second tranche of the Infection Control Fund has just been published on the 1st October – the first official day for utilising funding and within it there are a number of notable changes

We have, of course, welcomed the arrival of the second tranche of the Infection Control Fund – and in this extraordinary circumstance the distribution of any additional public funding is to be heralded. However – the fund has been extended both in terms of time – and in terms of those who will received – whilst simultaneously reducing the total – meaning it has been spread so thin, and so far that it runs a real risk of achieving very little at a time when it needs to deliver a lot.

For those who love a spreadsheet – the grant allocation table tells you all that you need to know about the ambition and the actuality of this fund. It also tells a tale of mistrust and micro management at an eye watering scale – and believe me when I say, bureaucracy busting this fund ain’t!

Having reviewed a number of localities, it seems that the average allocation for a 50 bed care home, likely to employ between 40- 50 staff, will be somewhere between 35K and 40K over a six month period. This money is intended to deliver a very wide range of tasks including:-

  • ensure that staff who are isolating receive their normal wages
  • limit all staff movement between settings.
  • limit or cohort staff to individual groups of residents
  • support active recruitment of additional staff
  • steps to limit the use of public transport by members of staff
  • provide accommodation for staff prepared to stay on site
  • support safe visiting in care homes,

Nevermind the gap between the ambition and actuality of funds – then comes the bureaucracy. Each home has to report individually on a monthly basis on their spend, providing the evidence that they need to satisfy the local authority reporting requirements.

So – to receive additional funding of around £6K per month, a home has to provide a monthly report to the local authority, who then aggregate and analyse hundreds of local reports each pertaining to equally small sums, and then provide a monthly report to central government, who presumably then aggregate and analyse around 150 reports to send through to Treasury – who ultimately provide regular reports to public accounts committees. Are we missing the point somewhere here? Accountability and transparency are one thing – but this seeming obsession with counting the beans out and the husks back in would feel disproportionate in planet normal – and therefore feels completely off key in an ongoing pandemic in which care sits in the midst of the maelstrom.

I know this funding has been hard fought for – and is desperately needed – so how have we got ourselves into a position where it becomes even reasonable to ask whether the cost of administering this fund outweighs the actual contribution to the cost of delivering on the fund’s ambitions?

Vic Rayner, Executive Director NCF

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