‘We are working round the clock to keep the people we care for safe and happy and to protect our staff. We know the COVID 19 situation is moving fast– but the care sector can only effectively play its part with more direct support from the Government…..’ The National Care Forum, representing care and support providers in the not-for-profit sector, is hearing this message day in day out from its members.
Social care is not well understood by many, but it has always been a key part of the overall world of care and health. Now, more than ever, social care has a vital and important part to play in supporting whole communities in the fight against COVID-19 and keeping many different groups of vulnerable people safe.
Our providers, like many across the country, are working hard to prepare for the escalation of COVID-19. This includes refresher training on infection control, robust measures to ensure any visitors to care services are safe to enter, planning for how to keep going in the face of significant staff shortages and how to ensure the people they care for and their staff are kept safe and well.
However, it is clear that social care is in urgent need of help, more directly and more quickly. One of our providers told us ‘We have robust contingency plans in place – but we need to be clear about when we need to put them into practice. This means we need to know as quickly as possible if one of the people we care for, or one of our staff, actually has the virus. It’s been impossible to get testing done quickly. People have to go into hospital before the testing happens and it’s even harder to get our staff tested. The 111 service is under real pressure, so we are left in the limbo of uncertainty.’ Without this critical information, services cannot plan to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, or to ensure that their staff are adequately protected.
The issue of protection is never far from care providers minds, and the lack of personal protective equipment for care staff remains a pressing problem. The government has now instigated a welcome development with the creation of a national supply distribution helpline and a promise that all care services will receive 300 face masks. Word on the ground, however, is that care providers are still really struggling to get hold of all the PPE that they need and they are ‘watching this space’ in terms of real effectiveness. Without the full set of PPE, providers are having to make very difficult decisions about whether or not they stay open for admissions, as they will not want to put existing residents and staff at risk from lack of necessary and required equipment. It is simply unacceptable to ask care staff to do this without the right protection.
The newly announced emergency legislation with its extensive powers and the new hospital discharge regime make it clear that the expectations on care providers are ramping up even more. Of course, we know it will not stop here. Every day the government provides further guidance and advice, and everyday providers are grappling with the reality of this.
Social care stands ready to play its part but to do so effectively, to help the NHS and the wider community in this crisis, we need real inclusion in the emergency planning arrangements and full regard for the care workforce and those we provide care and support for. Recognising and enabling the heroism and selflessness of all of our care workers would be a great start, but much more importantly enabling them to work safely, with the information and equipment they need will be the true test of the government and societies commitment to enabling social care to play it’s part.
Vic Rayner, Executive Director
National Care Forum